Karma Indian Cuisine
Where: 12623 E. Meridian Ave., Puyallup, 253.770.6276
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 12 p.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Cuisine: Northern Punjab-style Indian cooking; tandoori meats, seafood, large selection of naan, over 20 vegetarian dishes. Full menu served until 2 a.m. nightly.
Scene: Casual dining and swanky "Bollywood" martini bar and lounge
Drinkies: Traditional Indian beverages, soft drinks, teas, coffee, beer, wine and specialty cocktail
ANNOUNCER: Strip malls can be hiding places for dining gems. Sumay Indian Cuisine underwent a name change and expansion last year. Now known as Karma Indian Cuisine, the South Hill restaurant still offers Northern Punjab-style Indian food. Expanding into the adjacent space, the previously small restaurant more than doubled in size by adding an opulent lounge and martini bar. A wall of mirrors reflects amber lighting, candle flames and the jewel tones of pillowed booths and padded bench seating. Since Bombay Bistro in Tacoma is now a 7-Eleven, the boys are on the hunt to satisfy their Northern Indian-food craving.
JAKE: My wife recently told me, "Finish the sun room addition or lose 10 pounds." You better believe I'm not spending the few "summer" days we have left with a hammer in hand, so I'm opting to be a three-day-a-week vegetarian in hopes of slimming naturally.
JASON: Well, there's my proof: you're crazy and were not blood relatives. Weight loss takes exercise.
JAKE: Play along, brother, or I'll have my wife tell yours how great a hot tub and new deck would be. With pseudo veg-head status in mind, I was pleased to see more than 20 meat-free dishes on the menu at Karma. During three separate visits we tried a fat handful of them. First up, samosas. Shaped like large, irregular Hersey‘s Kisses, the savory pastries come two to an order and are stuffed with a seasoned potato and green pea mixture. I slathered on mint and cilantro chutney.
JASON: Paneer cheese and vegetables mashed into four plum-size balls sat in orange-red sauce, a dish called malai kofta. Its color derived from fresh tomato and cream, the sauce's sweetness was increased by raisins and fenugreek. The savory side was represented well by garlic and onion. What looked to be cashews provided a nice crunch here and there.
JASON: I played along on the no-meat trip, but to keep things somewhat balanced, we also sampled lamb in jalfrezi sauce and butter chicken (makhani). I thought it would be a creamy curry dish by the menu description; instead it reminded me of peppery stew with chunks of carrot, potato, green peas and onion. Plentiful lamb pieces were tender and not gamey, which made for a happy belly. Tandoori chicken morsels in the makhani were delicious. It came off like a rich soup with subtle curry flavor. Dishes are served family-style at Karma, meaning in big bowls, with basmati rice on the side. The rice gave me an excuse to eat all the creamy butter sauce. Nimbu paani, a gingery lemonade-like drink, helped cut the heavy richness.
JAKE: I'm with you on that - I'd eat the butter sauce with a spoon, like soup. When it came to the naan, we stuck to the original - a huge puffed affair with the right amount of chewiness - though stuffed varieties were tempting. A true fan of paneer cheese, I was pleased by just how much there was in the palak paneer dish. Thick with spinach, sautéed onion and a touch of ginger, green chilies lent serious heat to the dish; I was glad to have the mellow, fruity sweetness of a mango lassi to counteract it.
JASON: Can I say that if I was single and 25, I'd totally dip into Karma's swanky Bollywood bar some Saturday night for a walk on the exotic side?
JAKE: You'd stick out like the blond, pasty-faced dude from Lakewood you are, but dreams are good to have.
JASON: Point is moot; we're both married and pasty, Dream Killer. Kheer rice pudding was orange in color, making me wonder if there's mango in it. The luscious sweetness and soft, creamy rice make it a proven good dessert choice. On our last visit we had galub jamun - fried milk balls (think dumpling) in thin sweet syrup. They were way better than back in 2009 when the restaurant was known as Sumay, but I still don't get the "rose flavored syrup" part. It seemed more citrus or ginger flavored.
JAKE: Aesthetics aside, I think the right things changed when Sumay became Karma - and the right things also stayed the same. Servers were helpful in explaining the menu, making suggestions and stopping by frequently on all visits.