2.5 stars for North Indian at Ayesha on Key Biscayne

Ayesha chef-owner Mohammed “Mike” Hussain says he picked Key Biscayne for his Indian restaurant because it reminded him of Bombay. If you close your eyes on a breezy night at one of his outdoor tables, the air thick with curry, tamarind and turmeric, you almost believe him. Even the crush of people waiting for a table on a weekend night seems in keeping with the South Asian illusion. Only you’re standing in a strip mall overlooking a parking lot, and you’re being scolded for being five minutes late for your reservation. It’s amazing what we’re willing to tolerate in the Indian food desert that is Miami-Dade.

This aromatic space with white tablecloths and saffron-colored sponged walls has been building a respectable following since Hussain relocated to the exclusive suburb 21/2 years ago after closing his Taste of Bombay restaurant in downtown Miami. Born in Bombay (now Mumbai), Hussain, who also owns Indian restaurants in West Palm Beach and Jupiter, named the spot after his 13-year-old daughter. He plays on the name with menu items like saffron lettuce wraps, an appetizer that successfully pairs a fiery, juicy, chicken-tomato sauté with cool lettuce leaves and a fruity tamarind sauce for dipping. There’s a full page of vegetarian options and a healthy range of tandoor, biryani (rice), curry, madras and rogan josh dishes with chicken, lamb and seafood, served with a mound of carrot-flecked basmati rice.

Ambience: A potpourri of languages drifts from the intimate, raised booths inside, while Indian music videos on the flat-screen TV over the bar provide a rocking sitar soundtrack.

What Worked

  • Airy & flavorful onion kulcha (leavened bread stuffed with spiced, sautéed onions)
  • Shrimp apna curry –  large, whole shrimp in a broth of ginger, garlic, tomato, onion and curry
  • Mixed vegetable curry – a gentler combination of cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and onions
  • Lamb chops, marinated in yogurt, garlic, ginger and dry-roasted Indian spices and baked in a tandoor clay oven
  • Chicken biryani – tender pieces of meat embedded with nutmeg, pepper, cloves, cardamom, garlic, ginger, bay leaves & a nutty-creamy korma sauce
  • Gulab jamun dessert — sweet, fried cheese balls swimming in honey syrup and delightfully refreshing rose water

What Didn’t Work

  • Bland & dry samosa appetizers
  • An uninspired wine list
  • Overwhelming heat on the tomato-based lamb rogan josh
  • Chicken madras ordered medium spicy, but served mild to the point of boring
  • Slow & inattentive service



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