RASHNAA RESTAURANT (307 Wellesley East, at Parliament, 416-929-2099) Complete meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a 500 ml Tiger lager. Average main $8. Open Monday to Thursday 11:30 am to 11:30 pm, Friday to Sunday 11:30 am to midnight. Licensed. Access: barrier free, washrooms upstairs. Rating: NNN
My lunch at Rashnaa appears ill-fated. The front patio's devoid of furniture, the dining room empty, and a bored waiter seems wholly indifferent to our presence. But if my mama taught me one lesson, it's never to exhibit contempt prior to investigation.
Drawing the waiter away from his newspaper, we immediately order two tall boy Tigers ($5.95) and a mixed appetizer platter ($6.95) of five items. The menu states that "authenticity is our word," and we roll our eyes.
Shame on us.
A basket arrives with two fresh papadum on top - light, crisp and without a trace of grease. We confirm that they're prepared on the premises. The hefty vegetable samosa displays equal skill in its unusually flaky pastry and filling of a well-proportioned, highly spiced mixture of potato, carrot and peas.
The beef pancake roll is our favourite, however, a 4-inch, breaded crepe filled with tender beef masala. A seafood cutlet of mashed tuna and potato plus a rather bland and doughy deep-fried lentil dumpling round out the platter.
Kottu Rotty with vegetables ($7.95), one of the Sri Lankan specialty mains, proves one of the most interesting Indian dishes I've sampled in years. Grilled, chopped naan is sautéed with onion, green peppers, a few chilis, eggs, fresh curry leaves and a blend of spices.
Moist chicken pieces are of the highest quality, and the flavours are clean and layered. A dollop of raita ($2.95) with cucumber, onion and tomato is recommended to cool and moisten. The packed-up leftovers provide a second satisfying meal for two.
Vegetable Delight ($8.95) also brings us a whole lot of food - a plateful of fluffy basmati rice gently sautéed in ghee, served with three small bowls containing mild coconut-based (kalia) curry dishes with a Malaysian influence: eggplant, breadfruit and potato; cashew and green peas; and potato. A spoonful of carrot achar on the edge of the plate adds smoky heat if desired.
As three other tables' parties wander in during the course of our lunch, the waiter warms to his work. He asks the couple behind us how they've heard of the restaurant. They announce they're visiting from Europe and pull out the Lonely Planet guide.
Good to know guidebook editors aren't asleep.