Chithra's will make you want to sing sha-na-naan.
By Linda Bladholm
Named for owner Raja Kandaswamy's wife, Chithrakala, and tucked into the food court on the second level of Flagler Station Mall, Chithra's offers mainly North Indian dishes. (Rafael Yungan, an Ecuadorean cook, also
turns out pizza, garlic knots and calzone.)
North Indian food is richer and creamier than South Indian and uses cream, butter and ground almond and cashew pastes for flavor and texture. Chithra's features lots of dishes with fresh curd cheese (paneer), hearty stewed lentils (dal), breads cooked in a furnace-like tandoor oven, rice biryani made by layering fragrant basmati and meat with spices and salty or sweet lassi (yogurt drinks frothed in a blender).
Start with baked puffs, made by folding puff pastry dough around ground lamb, chicken curry or vegetable curry to form flaky golden triangles. Or get the onion and paneer pakora (fritters), battered in chickpea flour and deep-fried, good with complimentary tart tamarind chutney and lime pickle.
Daily specials include rice with a choice of meat and one vegetable or, for vegetarians, rice and three vegetables. Gobi chili masala is a dry curry with florets of cauliflower in a ground spice, green chile and garlic mixture -- or get it with ginger instead of the chile. Palak paneer is mildly spiced ground spinach with fresh cubes of cheese. Chana masala is a popular Punjabi dish of chickpeas and potato cooked in a thick spicy tomato sauce.
Meat eaters can dig into lamb shahi kurma, a royal-style braise in a ground nut and green chile paste, or lamb vindaloo (marinated in vinegar and cooked in hot red gravy). Theres also tandoori chicken, chicken pepper fry (breast meat fried in peppery tomato sauce), fried kingfish steaks, lamb or chicken biryani and vegetable pulao.
For a simple lunch, get chole puri, a puffy, deep-fried bread with stewed chickpeas, a fresh mango lassi and, for dessert, kheer (rice pudding) or rava halwa (semolina pudding with cardamom, nuts and melted butter). Or quell the spices with pistachio kulfi (ice cream) or a strawberry shake made with milk and ice cream. 48 E. Flagler St., Miami (at First Avenue, in the second-level food court); 305-789-2842; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon-Fri, until 4 p.m. Sat.; appetizers $2.75-$5.49, entrees $5.99-$8.99, desserts $2.49-$3.50.
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Photo: Linda Bladholm/Miami.com