Sunday, July 17, 2011

Clay Oven

Every time a new non-chain restaurant opens on the south side, you know we'll be excited! Clay Oven is located next to the big US 31 Wal-Mart strip mall but it is still small and could be easily missed if you weren't looking for it. Open for a couple of months now, we had nothing but high hopes for excellent cuisine and a new favorite Indian dining spot close to home!

We had the opportunity to try Clay Oven out twice before doing this review and on both occasions service has been polite, personable, and friendly. The patience and humor shown by staff were very appreciated when considering our very vocal children. ;)

On our first visit, we decided to start with the mixed tandoori appetizer. A sizzling tray of chicken & lamb over a bed of charred green peppers & red onions quickly emerged. The smell of the meat and veggies was intoxicating. As expected in an Indian place, the seasoning on both were excellent. Mom, Dad & Stella enjoyed every morsel of roasted lamb, but found the chicken dry. That and for the price, I think we'll pass next time, especially since it was one of the more pricey appetizers.

While Stella, Mom & Dad dove into the meat, Ozzy pecked a bit at the Papad. These are crispy, very thin wafers that came with the dish. No one could really nail down the spice. Maybe celery salt or onion salt? Not sure, but it wasn't a big hit with the Oz, so he waited for the main course.

Our second visit appy was the Paneer Pakora. This was oddly familiar and quite good. Small squares of house-made Indian cheese dipped in a garbanzo bean batter and deep fried....yummy. This batter had a nice spice to it and would be good on anything!

As we're both suckers for lamb, our first visit had to include it. Fred ordered the Lamb Hara Masala (lamb cooked in a mint curry sauce) while Libby chose the Krahi Ghosht . Since we knew the only thing headed to the table Ozzy would even consider touching was the rice, we added a basket of assorted naan. Now, FLOE is a sucker for naan. We consider it akin to pizza. As in even when it's bad, it's still pretty good! But never before have we gotten an assortment of different naans. Yowsa! Clay Oven offers 10 (count 'em!!! TEN!!) different naans. The assortment only came with 3 unfortunately: Garlic Naan, Rati (whole wheat), and regular. Maybe it was the curry going to our heads, but all three were some of the top naan we'd ever eaten. Ozzy dove in head first. Fred literally had to grab his hands to stop him from taking more than 1/2 of it for himself. This will most certainly be an every-visit order. Skip it at your own peril, people!

Fred's dish was certainly the star of the first evening. As someone who grew up putting mint jelly on his leg of lamb (Jelly on meat? Don't knock it 'til you try it!), this was right up his alley. Not sweet like his mom's, but incredibly savory with a heavy dose of mint. Fred quickly scooped up a handful of naan for his utensil and dove in. While they called it a curry on the menu, we didn't taste much in the way of masala. The sauce was more like a mint-based pesto. The hunks of lamb tasted like they'd been cooked in the sauce, but Fred wasn't sure. All we know is Clay Oven's chef hit this one out of the park. As with most Indian dishes, it may not look very appetizing, but one whiff of the enticing aroma and you're hooked!

Libby's Krahi Ghosht was more of a fried-rice type dish which she ordered knowing Stella would have no trouble eating. While the flavor was fine and Stella definitely approved, it simply couldn't stand up to the Hara Masala. It was heavy on the peppers and onions which left the impression of a southwest meets India vibe. Unfortunately it ended up a little dry. Without a sauce to fall back on, the rice just sucked up all the moisture in the dish. A shame really...

But alas, on our second visit, we went more old school. Fred chose the Vegetable Korma and Libby the Chicken Tikka Masala. Wow! We thought the first visit had been pretty darned good, but it only when up from there. The Vegetable Korma was in a thick, savory sauce that had tons of veggies and unbelievable amounts of flavor. This kind of food can turn anyone vegetarian! Fred ordered it Medium-Hot and it was just a bit on the "hot" side, but so aroma rich, it felt perfect! Dip a little naan in and Fred was one happy man.

The Chicken Tikka Masala was definitely the best either Fred or Libby had ever had. Not to discount the familiar dish, but most lunch buffet versions are far too bland. At Clay Oven, that was SO not the case here! More savory, creamy goodness teaming with more of those floral overtones that made you wonder why the place didn't have a line out the door?!

Both visits left mom & dad stuffed, but the owner decided the kids needed some free ice cream for good behavior. Clay Oven offers a couple of different homemade ice creams per day. We decided on the mango and were happily rewarded with squeals from both kids. Definitely a hit all around. Thank you, sir!

Wrap Up
Price- $$, Not buffet prices, but what you would expect for a sit-down establishment. Although they do have a buffet for lunch.
Atmosphere-**, Clean, comfortable. We would love to see more Indian influence in decor as there seems to be a standard look to all Indian establishments. Minimalism with a hint of culture...we say jazz it up!
Service-****, Not only were both the servers attentive but the owner actually came out to explain the difference between the Roti and regular naan. The owner was incredibly gracious and practically demanded to give the kids free ice cream! What's not to love?!

Fred- A, Lets see, local owners, check. Lamb, naan and a wonderful sauce, check. Basically this is Fred's definition of a great find. Too bad Indian beer isn't my cup of tea or this would really tick all the boxes!!
Libby-A, Both experiences were consistently welcoming and proved to be some of the best Indian cuisine I have tasted. No blandness here, just aromatic spice and did we talk about that naan???!
Ozzy- B, Ok, the boy had naan, white rice & ice cream for dinner. Not great on the parenting scale, but not so bad in his eyes.
Estelle- B, Stella grazed on everything, but especially loved the ice cream. Since this ended up being a leisurely three course meal, she got a little antsy towards the end...both times.

The Clay Oven Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon