Raga: Executive Chef Sarkar Brings Genuine Indian Flavors to Orlando!
Background: In my experience, I have come to realize that it is better to wait a couple of months before paying a visit to a new restaurant, at least in Orlando. It gives them sufficient time to iron out the kinks, etc. to be successful in their endeavors. Chatter about the new Indian Restaurant Raga on Orlando’s Restaurant Row through the grape-vine coupled with my lasting craving for naan brought me to Raga.
Scene: Raga sits on one of the most coveted locations in Orlando, aptly name ‘Restaurant Row‘, pulling in both locals and Disney tourists. Opulent chandeliers, velvet sofas, dusky lounge, white and gold linen contrasted with plush seating in cool hues. My first impression, ‘did I walk in to a French restaurant’?
The menu is diverse, authentic, and boasts dishes from across the entire country ranging from Kashmiri (North) to Kerala (South), including a ‘Global Fusion’ menu and signature cocktails, where they skillfully blend Indian accents into classic cocktails.
Food: Deliberately I ordered the usual suspects, as my goal was to determine the authenticity of Indian flavors, I am most familiar with (after all I was raised in Delhi). I started the evening with Taj Mahal cocktail which listed Tamarind as one of the ingredients. By appearance itself I could determine that the cocktail didn’t have any Indian flavors.
Fortunately for me, more importantly for Raga, Executive Chef Sarkar was on the kitchen line and Mr. Marci was my server/bartender. They came to the rescue and literally swept me off my feet, with their attention to detail and extra touches. Mr. Marci being an attentive listener, quickly re-created my drink and yes, this time it was refreshing and tangy.
Our dinner line up: Baluchi Murg Tikka, Tulsi Seekh, Butter Chicken, Dal Bukhara, and Naan. Tulsi Seekh Kebab was among the most flavorful seekh’s I’ve had in America. Minced lamb with onions, ginger, garlic, tulsi and freshly ground spices, beautifully spiced but not spicy hot. Lamb in America renders on the leaner side, hence it’s hard to create melting in your mouth kebabs I am accustomed to from restaurants in Delhi. The vegetables as the accompaniments (carrots, potatoes, onions, asparagus) had an distinct subtle touch most commonly associated with French Cuisine – then I recalled Chef Sarkar mentioning to me that French Cuisine is is favorite to experiment with. Bravo, nice touch Chef! (Don’t expect to get the typical pink colored vinegar onions or watery chutneys Indian restaurants serve around town.)
The Baluchi Murg Tikka was delicately spiced and charred to perfection characteristic of a tandoor oven. The Butter Chicken, (chicken simmered in a savory sauce of tomatoes and butter, spiced with fenugreek) was incontestably the BEST dish on the table. Spiced perfectly, nuanced tomato based sauce, a far cry from dishes doused with heavy cream or butter. Hot isn’t indicative of flavorful. And Chef Sarkar with his ingenious recipes presents dishes that take demonstrable pride in the unique flavors and textures that Indian cuisine has to offer and not rely solely on chilies.
I appreciated the Bukhara Dal being devoid of heavy cream but missed the creamy texture which is created by slow cooking of this dal. A small suggestion to the administration, ‘Bukhara’ is the name of signature dal at Bukhara restaurant in Maurya Sheraton; why not give this dal a unique name based on Chef Sarkar’s recipe? The Butter Naan was a disappointment, doughy and under cooked hence lacking the char and thinness.
Chef Sarkar’s house-made Indian desserts scored huge points with me. Out side of Delhi, this might have been the first time EVER I have enjoyed Rasmalai. Carrot halva, decadent chocolate mousse and ras malai were flawlessly re-created and presented.
Bottom Line: Here’s something we hear often: “I like Indian food, but I don’t eat it enough.” If you’re one of those people, and you’re looking to grow your Indian culinary knowledge, consider Raga. It will appeal to both the traditional tasters that grab an Indian meal out of their home or the ones looking for the taste of the exotic without burning your palate.
If Raga’s mission is to show that Indian food is just as deserving of linen napkins, beautiful food presented artfully, and the fine dining experience as any other, then there is still quite a bit of work to be done. They do have the right ingredients – Indian food made with quality ingredients and careful technique, elegant ambiance, and most importantly location.
That said the service was attentive but lacked the finesse of a fine dining restaurant; water stains on glasses, food being served with fingers inside the bowls to name a few issues that need to be addressed. Here’s hoping that Executive Chef Sarkar and Raga can train their kitchen and floor staff to heights that will crown Raga as the finest ethnic restaurant in town.
Special thanks to Mr. Marci’s exceptionally attentive and sophisticated service and for having the humble pleasure to personally chat with Executive Chef Sarkar. I can’t wait to head back with my entire family soon. For reservations at Raga, check out their website.