44175 W. 12 Mile Rd.
Suite F-143, Novi
Most entrées: $11-$12
Open 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and till 3 a.m.
Friday and Saturday in the summer, till 11 p.m.
the rest of the year.
Say what you want about imperialism, it has produced some fabulous additions to world cuisines. The French influence in Vietnam comes to mind, or the fact that the kebab is now the British national dish.
One of the best examples has to be the food of Goa, the tiny seaside Indian state that was ruled by Portugal for about 450 years, till 1961. The Goans have jumbled the two influences in such combinations as pork vindalu and chorizo curry, in a cuisine that leans on rice, fish, coconut milk and oil, and a long list of spices. It's more Indian than Portuguese (salt cod is a Portuguese staple that thankfully didn't make the transition), and now you can try it in Novi.
To get there, you'll have to navigate a nightmare landscape of looming big box installations, "Twelve Mile Crossing at Fountain Walk," that's trying to look like a pedestrian space and failing miserably. (Actually, my guess is the architects knew their design looks like exactly what it is and were fine with it.) Inside, there are pretend palm trees and some pretend-shuttered windows overlooking the second floor, which I actually thought were a good try. There's no alcohol; you'll be shutting out other considerations and coming just for the food.
Goan cuisine includes both "Catholic" and "Hindu" dishes, and chef-owner Jason Noronha concentrates on the former, catering to the 100 or so families of the Indian Catholic Association in the area. He came to Michigan at 19, learned to cook from his mother and grandmother, and after culinary school served time on cruise ships. Besides Goan specialties, he also serves familiar dishes from north and south India, such as chicken tikka, tandoori chicken, samosas and pakoras, as well as tikka pizza, kabab pizza and some french fries you can do without.
The word I kept using as I tasted my own and my companions' dishes was "complex." Clam curry, prawn (shrimp) curry and fish curry, for example, are flavored with both coconut and kokum, the blackish-red skin of a dried fruit that adds a tart-sour taste, like tamarind. In the fish curry, half the fish is cooked in the curry and the other half is fried and placed on top.
In lamb curry, the taste of the lamb is not covered up by the "18 individually roasted spices," which include mace, cardamom, anise star, nutmeg and cloves as well as freshly grated coconut and poppy seeds.
Possibly the best dishes we tried were dhukramas — pork — and Noronha says they're his favorites too. In sorpotel, the lean pork is parboiled, then diced and sautéed, then cooked with Goan spices. The housemade chorizo includes both lean and fatty pieces and is cooked with potatoes and tomatoes. Both dishes are robust, vibrant, the meat making a strong contribution while the spices are equally strong.
Green Goan chicken (galinha cafrael) is spiced with chilis, cilantro, ginger, garlic and cinnamon, according to an online recipe. I tasted mostly cilantro, along with the hotness. You get four pieces, very green.
One dish to request on weekends is dum goat biryani. Raw meat and rice are put in a pot with a list of spices longer than your arm, a flour-and-water dough goes on top, the pot is sealed, and it's cooked unopened.
Two non-Goan entrées we tried were paneer jalfrezi, a lightly coconuty, less spicy vegetarian dish with mild Indian cheese, broccoli and other veggies, and lamb seekh kabab. The roasted vegetables in this dish are superb, absolutely the right degree of roasting to bring out all their flavors — cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, squash — and the lamb is like a lamb sausage.
Goan shrimp made a great appetizer, cooked with peppers and served on a fresh cabbage and cilantro slaw, tender and crisp. Sesame Gobi is another: large cauliflower florets, cooked to just the right crunchiness, covered in a red sweet-and-sour sauce and flecked with sesame seeds.
When you're eating spicy foods, as so many of us know, the best refresher is a creamy mango lassi, and Indo Fusion's is among the best — it incorporates chunks of mango. The ultra-simple sweet lassi is also marvelous, just house-made whole-milk yogurt and sugar (no rosewater here), but infinitely refreshing, sweet and tangy with the illusion of richness.
The other respite from spice during an Indian meal is bread. Naan here is forgettable but my new favorite is sannas: steamed dumplings made of ground rice, fresh coconut and buttermilk. They're light and spongy with a mild coconut taste. I insist that you try these.
For dessert, the traditional Indian rasmalai and gulab jamun are on the menu, but also a Goan Christmas favorite, bebinca, which according to our server takes 14 hours to make. This is seven alternating dark-brown and yellow layers, more pudding than cake-like, with ghee and coconut milk, and pretty rich. It's fine, but we all preferred the rasmalai, whose sauce, with pistachios floating, was so perfectly caramel.
The Goans have a word, writ large on Indo Fusion's wall, to describe their culture; it seems mighty similar to the Jamaican irie — laid-back, no worries, peace. But I'd say the cuisine is too exciting for total susegad.
ane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.