At Prerna, owner chef Tony Sabherwal and partner Abby expand their culinary vision beyond pizza.
PRERNA (790 Broadview, at Danforth, 416-463-9777) Complete dinners for $30 per person (lunches $22), including all taxes, tip and a saffron lassi. Average main $11. Open daily for delivery 11:30 am to 10:30 pm. Unlicensed. Delivery. Access: short step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Tony Sabherwal has come full circle. With the launch two weeks ago of Subcontinental take-away Prerna in deepest, darkest Riverdale, the man who gave Toronto the tandoori chicken pizza has returned to his culinary roots.
Few remember that before opening downtown's favourite indie chain of eco-conscious pizzerias - six Magic Ovens so far, with two more planned for next year - Sabherwal started out back in the 80s at Little India's Bar Be Que Hut. Prerna brings him right back to the beginning - with a twist, of course.
Like the Oven, Prerna distinguishes itself from the competition by using ingredients that are not only of higher quality but healthier, too. Where else are you going to find free-range butter chicken ($10.95), and delivered seven days a week, to boot? Pure genius!
Our portable spread starts off somewhat less prodigiously with paneer-stuffed papadam ($5.95). Think caraway-studded quesadilla with minty coriander chutney. That same relish does wonders for something called desi fries ($5), chunky wedges of deep-fried spuds dusted with spicy garam masala and pungent mango powder.
Forgoing fowl, we go vegetarian with paneer butter masala, its dairy-rich tomato cream sauce nuttier than most, though there's three times as much of it as cheese. Back to the bird, chicken curry (both $9.95) finds a substantial amount of partially de-boned breast in a mild gravy elegantly garnished with long strips of raw ginger.
You say tomato, they say tamatar. Described on the flyer as "peasant food," tamatar pyaz ki tarkari ($6.95) turns out to be a palatable almost-Italian stew of fresh tomatoes and onion, while an order of khumb mattar makhane ($7.95) - "Agaricus bisporus, Pisum sativum and Euryale ferox" in tangy yogurt yet - turns out to be a tasty combo of mushrooms, peas and lotus seeds.
Punjabi-style chickpea chana ($6.95) seems runnier than most, but at least it's not swimming in oily ghee. And unless you're really partial to turnip, steer clear of sweet 'n' sour khatte-meethe shalgam ($7.95). Basmati pulao tossed with garden peas ($4.95) soaks up any excess sauce. The same can't be said for gluten-free spelt roti ($2). Wrapped in aluminum foil, by the time they reach the NOW Test Kitchen, they're rubber.
A few days later, the Literary Device and I check out Prerna in person. Conveniently located directly next door to the original Magic Oven in the former Café Next Door, the spartan room's not really decorated to attract the dine-in set. Walls painted pale purple are hung with black-and-white photos of what at first glance appear to be starving Calcutta street people. As a chandelier incongruously shines overhead, treacly muzak oozes from the stereo.
But the welcome is warm, and soon we're tucking into a crispy pair of veggie samosas ($3.95) straight from the tandoor - well, pizza oven. Lassis ($2.95) come thick and fruity, laced with mango or saffron.
Of the mains, we opt for organic farmed salmon ($12.95), a perfectly flaky fillet poached in what the card calls Prerna Masala but looks an awful lot like that tomato tamatar to us. Dressed with artfully sliced lemon, strands of ginger and a topknot of fresh coriander, this fish gets full marks for presentation. We side it with phali wadi ($7.95), al dente green beans and crumbled lentil dumplings in a tangy turmeric wash.
Though we didn't have much success with Prerna's takeout roti, in-house naan ($2) come nicely buttered but not as blistered as they'd be if they'd been fired in a tandoor. We finish with a soothing dish of rasmalai ($3.95), softened sweet paneer in saffron-scented milk.
"We try to make everything as authentic as possible," says Sabherwal, who with wife Abby test-drove the delivered lineup. "If you were to come to our house for dinner, this is exactly what we'd serve."
Thing is, now that the Sabherwals have opened Prerna, their house comes to your house.