When living in London, I entered restaurants on the famed Indian cuisine mecca, Brick Lane, with the general expectation of leaving uncomfortably full. Between the creamy dishes and the various accompaniments, this was almost a guarantee.The Spice Box, a new "home-style Indian cooking" restaurant in Bend, defies this expectation. Lighter, modern takes of classic Indian dishes are served in well-balanced portions from this small, brightly lit eatery on Century Drive. "This is Indian food from a healthy perspective," says owner and chef Mrinal Patel-Warburton. "The foods you see in traditional Indian restaurants are what we'd see at weddings and social gatherings. The food at Spice Box is what you'd find on a table in an Indian home."
The menu is simple and service fast, making it a welcome addition to the growing number of quick, healthy options in town. You have the choice of five different combination plates (each $8.95) and a daily special (price changes). Mrinal's sister, Sonali, took my and my husband's order at the counter on a recent evening. No more than five minutes later, our meals were served.
I chose Rajma, a red kidney bean curry with a spinach and eggplant side dish. My husband, along with several of our friends, decided on the chicken curry with the Aloo Gobhi side dish, cauliflower and Yukon gold potatoes mixed in a blend of spices, garlic and fresh ginger.
Each combo plate, the options of which change twice weekly on Mondays and Wednesdays, comes with an entrée served over basmati rice, side salad and Papadum, a thin cracker-like dish made from ground lentil. We added mango chutney to our order to dip the Papadum in. While this sounds like a lot of food, the portions allowed you to enjoy the complementary tastes of each dish without feeling overwhelmed.
The curries we sampled were surprisingly mild. The Rajma sauce is made with a sauté of cumin and black mustard seed, onion, garlic, ginger, green chilies and fresh tomatoes. The chicken curry shared similar ingredients minus the tomatoes. A cucumber and yogurt dressing was served to cut the spiciness of the meal but it was never needed. The salad of cucumber, tomato, red onion, carrot and cilantro tossed with lemon juice, salt and cumin was the perfect palate cleanser between the curry and the rich tasting of the spinach and eggplant dish. The mango chutney had the texture of the insides of an apple pie. Spiced with cinnamon, it added a sweet touch to the meal.
The inspiration for lighter fare comes from Mrinal's mother, Mridula, who grew up in an Indian community in East Africa. There, according to Mrinal, the cuisine is tangier, with the heavy cream found in many Indian recipes replaced by lemon juice and yogurt or eliminated altogether. The lack of dairy and meat in many of Spice Box's dishes will make it an easy go-to for Central Oregonian vegans and vegetarians. The meat is sourced locally, which will also please the localvores among us.
The décor of Spice Box is refreshingly modern. Bright orange walls are decorated with attractive pieces brought back from Mridula-s recent trip to India. A turquoise tapestry serves as a door to the kitchen. On one wall is a striking painting by local artist Clay Warburton of the Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu deity.
Open only a few weeks, The Spice Box is still evolving. Food is currently served in paper products (all biodegradable), but this will be changing to dishware shortly. An application for a liquor license to serve beer and wine has been submitted and Lassis, a popular Indian yogurt-based drink, will soon be added to the menu. These embellishments will enrich the experience at this promising new kid on the block and addition to the Bend restaurant scene.
The Spice Box
133 SW Century Drive
Mon. - Fri. 11am to 8pm
Opening Sat. in summer