The big review: Anokha **

The Naan Bread Pudding. Photo: Charlotte Southern.

Coconut Grove’s decade-old Anokha has reinvented itself on Virginia Street with an expanded menu and dining room. The once-interminable waits for food have diminished, and the service is decidedly friendlier than before. The stark, meandering new space lacks the charm of the quirky old digs on Commodore Plaza, but a large outdoor terrace makes for a sweet experience when the weather is right.

The lengthy and enticing menu offers Indian classics from north and south including delightfully puffy naan breads, golden onion bhajia (fried rings), peppery beef kebabs and lots of vegetarian dishes as well as scorching vindaloos and tandoor chicken or fish. Emphatically spiced daal, a mix of dark lentils, is studded with twigs of cinnamon, hunks of glistening onion and loads of ginger, garlic, cinnamon and cumin. It makes for a culinary trip back to India, especially over the aromatic basmati rice.

Then there are the funky fusion concoctions such as Mumbai nachos, Maharaja Cobb salad, tandoori chicken tacos and a host of cold and toasted “naan-wiches” and wraps served with spicy potato chips or French fries. No doubt owner Meena Patel and her son, executive chef Bhavesh Patel, have been fiddling with the menu in an attempt to appeal to America palates. The results, so far, are mixed.

Divine crab and lobster cakes, three the size of golf balls, impress with their peppery simplicity and delightful Shiracha aioli dipping sauce, while the tandoori chicken tacos with slivers of dry meat left me cold. An untraditional trio of chicken tikka — small portions of soft, marinated white meat with a kicky cucumber mint raita — is intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying for those looking for the real thing.

Salads, including one with heirloom tomatoes and a refreshing, bite-size house version with frisee, slivered almonds, tomatoes and tamarind vinaigrette, are fresh, unexpected additions to the Indian larder. A reinvention of the classic makkhani murghi, made with chicken as thinly sliced as deli meat, falls flat despite the buttery curry sauce. “It’s our most popular dish,” insists the waitress, who doesn’t seem to know this standard should be made with chicken on the bone.

Still, she was considerably more knowledgeable than the newbie waiter who suggested chicken wings with blue cheese for the kids. The waitress cut him off to warn us that they were, in fact, scorching, and the two proceeded to argue the point while we waited for a break in the action. (For the record, the wings are quite fiery.)

Tender, flaky samosas can be had with either a delicate saag paneer (spinach and fresh cheese) filling or an oddly sweet duck and brie with a cilantro mint cream dipping sauce that takes this fusion concept a bit further than I want to go.

A divinely spiced shredded goat with meltingly soft meat in mouth-rousing curry is a surprise winner. I was less happy with rogan josh, lamb bits that tasted as if they had been tumbled in a washing machine and then boiled overnight in a deep burgundy-colored curry sauce. Though generously portioned, a lamb biryani had a similarly washed-out murkiness.

An international wine list that far exceeds most authentic Indian spots is grouped by price in three categories, $30, $40 or $50 a bottle and $9, $11 or $13 per glass. The pours are decently large, but the markups are brutal — a good 31/2 times retail for a simple and delicious Louis Latour La Chanfleure. I’d stick with the nice assortment of Indian beers.

And don’t miss dessert. The perky mango cheesecake and creamy naan bread pudding are delightful Indo-American inventions of the kind that really work.

Anokha Indian Restaurant Bar & Lounge, 3324 Virginia St., Coconut Grove; 786-552-1030. 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. Mon-Fri; 5 p.m.-midnight Tues-Sun (later on weekends). Appetizers $5-$13, entrees $13-$27, desserts $9. Lunch $8-$14, available all day

FYI: Full bar; happy hour specials. Metered street parking and adjacent garage. Local delivery available. AX, DN, MC, VS.

Published: 12/08

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