An average Italian restaurant gets more customers in a week than a good Indian restaurant gets in a month. – Calvin Trillin
What can we say about Namaste?
When it opened two years ago, we spent hours writing and crowing about it — everywhere from this website to the Las Vegas Weekly to KNPR to Channel 8’s Dishing and Dining.
Within a few short months of receiving all that praise, the head chef (the one we wrote was taking it to a whole new level of Indian food) left. Then it went through another ownership change (or two – these things can be hazy when you speak with foreign nationals), was closed down twice by the Health Department, and wound up in one Melque Rodrigues’ lap six months ago. Most intriguing of all: Melque (pronounced MEL-kee) is a trained vocalist, with major chops in the fragrance-selling and singing fields, but none in the food biz.
Melque tells us she took over the restaurant in one of those “I’ll sell you my restaurant if you’ll pay my debts” sort of deals where the credulous buyer gets roped in with all sorts of promises, only to find a struggling enterprise on their hands. (Memo to all potential small business buyers: Don’t buy any small business, restaurant or otherwise, without speaking with John A. Curtas, Lawyer-at-Law,* first.)
But the wee lass is nothing if not enterprising. A Portuguese-Goan by descent (hence the Rodrigues), she brought in friend/chef Michael Dias (he of Indian-Goan descent) to do the cooking, and revamped the menu to reflect many of the dishes from that western part of the sub-continent, as well as a “best hits” variety of other Indian dishes.
Our fave, as we posted earlier this week, is the paneer shaslik, but equally impressive is a chicken biryani that shames all others around town. Instead of meager bits of chicken stuck in a pile of rice, this one boasts huge chunks of marinated fowl hiding beneath a pillow of what might be the best biryani and basmati Bombay ever begat. A tomato-y, rather than a brown, gloppy gravy-y, vindaloo has all of that soul-warming richness you look for in Indian eats, and the spicing of every dish has that layered, textured appeal of these stews at their best.
It’s the appearance of those soupy stews that causes Indian food to get short shrift from the dining out public (along with its general spiciness). The visual appeal of a wonderfully wrought, deeply-flavored, intricately-spiced dish is marginal when all you’re looking at is a bowl with some colored liquid and some chunks of something in it. Compared to the pedestrian appearance of aloo gobi or saag paneer, even everyday foods can resemble works of art, while poor (as in: we feel sorry for them) Indian dishes look like a non-stop gravy train. Which is a shame because those gravies are anything but simple, and the food some of the most complexly seasoned on earth.
That seasoning and complexity mojo is what Miss Melque and Mr. Dias have recaptured at Namaste. Given the vagaries of business in this world, who knows how long this quality will last? But get back to Namaste while you can. The food (once again) is very good and worth the trip.
Über-writer Matt O’Brien picked up one tab (thanks über-writer Matt!), and the other was comped. Dinner for two (an app and two dishes) will run around $40. As with all Indian restaurants, the lunch buffet is a steal. As decent as it is, though, ELV recommends going for dinner to get these dishes at their freshest and most finely rendered.
In the Commercial Center
953 East Sahara Ave. #A6
Las Vegas, NV 89104
* John A. Curtas
3275 South Jones Blvd. Suite 105
Las Vegas, NV 89146