The goods: Good Indian food is as rare as a snowstorm in Miami. So when a new Indian place graces our sandy shores, it’s reason to celebrate, even if it means driving to Key Biscayne to get chicken tikka masala. You’ll find that and some pretty good samosas at Ayesha, a polished brass teapot of a place on Crandon Blvd. The owners of downtown’s shuttered Taste of Bombay relocated to the exclusive suburb with this incarnation which is a bit more upscale than their previous digs. Upon entering the dining room you’re greeted with the scents of curry, anise and cardamom. The jewelbox-sized restaurant is awash in saffron-colored walls, with seating at cushy raised booths and tables covered in amber-colored tablecloths. It’s ideal for a casual date or a family-friendly weekend lunch. There are also a handful of high-top tables on the patio outdoors, overlooking the strip mall parking lot which is actually a lot nicer than it sounds.
The grub: Mostly Northern Indian cuisine. The menu focuses on Punjabi standards like tandoori chicken, dal makhni (lentil stew) and Biryani dishes made with basmati rice. Prices are moderate and portions are good for sharing – most stews are $13 and come with rice, heftier mains like tandoori shrimp or masala steak can run you around $20. The boldly-flavored feast starts with a complimentary tray of popadoms (round, crisp Indian bread) and a spicy pickled onion chutney. From there move on to an order of vegetable samosas, lightly fried fritters filled with curried potatoes and peas. Be sure to order the homemade naan, a pliant and chewy bread perfect for lapping up the creamy curry sauces. You can go with classics here like saag panner (creamed spinach with Indian cheese) and chicken tikka made with boneless chicken marinated in yogurt, garlic and ginger and baked in a tandoori oven or opt for more creative takes on Indian cooking like the saffron mussel stew or the shrimp with Apna curry sauce, a coconut-based red curry. As with most Indian restaurants there is a generous list of vegetarian-friendly options like vegetable Korma (made with creamy cashew sauce) and Eggplant Bharta made with a whole roasted eggplant mashed and flavored with ginger, garlic and onions. A nice selection of Indian beers like Kingfisher, Royal Challenge and Haywards 5000 are a perfect complement to the spicy food.
Verdict: Solid Indian food at reasonable prices can be found at this intimate Key Biscayne spot.