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Saheb Indian Bistro makes great food easy to find

Lamb chops prepared in a clay oven, above, are on the menu at Saheb Indian Bistro. Ash Daniel

Part of the allure of going to a restaurant is finding something delicious that might be very difficult or uncommon to prepare at home. Indian food fits the bill perfectly for many Americans, and Shayam Sharma’s Saheb Indian Bistro is committed to making sure the experience is enjoyable for the whole family.

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The Saheb Indian Bistro is located in the Village Marketplace shopping center in Midlothian, replacing Pescado, which closed amid the pandemic after 18 years. Opening a restaurant during the pandemic has been a challenge for Sharma, but the native of northern India’s Punjab region is pressing ahead, confident that the passion, industry and trends in American taste will be a recipe for success.

North Indian cuisine is distinguished from the foods served in the southern regions of the country. Fruits, peanuts, and coconut oil harvested in the South appear less frequently. Spices are different, too.

“We use cloves, cardamom, ginger and garlic, as well as saffron,” Sharma says. He is also quick to dispel the notion that Indian food is too hot and too spicy for the average American to enjoy. “People have the mentality that spice means hot. We don’t make anything ‘hot’ unless they want it to.” Ironically, chili, which lends heat to some Indian dishes, is not native to India. They arrived with Portuguese explorers who also brought the first potatoes and tomatoes to the Asian subcontinent.

Lamb chops, above, are on the menu at Saheb Indian Bistro, where the cuisine comes from the home of Shayam Sharma (right, with wife Neeta), the northern Punjab region of India.  Photos by Ash Daniel

The bistro’s kitchen comes from Shyam Sharma’s hometown (right, with his wife Nita), the northern Punjab region of India. Ash Daniel

The sidekick’s menu clearly indicates whether the foods are spicy or not.

Reflecting the Hindu tradition in India, which often prohibits animal products, vegetarian options abound.

Appetizers include stuffed vegan samosas stuffed with potatoes and peas, and two cheese plates: paneer pakora, baked and fried cottage cheese, chili, and cheese cubes sauteed with spring onions and chili in soy sauce. Sahib also serves broccoli, potatoes, and chicken in the same chili style as the appetizer.

Seafood entrees include honey garlic shrimp and fish amritsari, which is a thin slice marinated in garlic, ginger and lemon and then drenched in chickpea flour and lightly fried.

Chaat, a delicious meal sold by street vendors in India, is available in several varieties: Aloo tikki with potato cakes; Palak, which has crunchy spinach, yogurt, mint and date sauces, as well as babdi, is a popular street snack style with boiled chickpeas, potatoes and yoghurt. Sahib also serves yellow lentil soup, dal shurpa, and tomato ka spiced tomato soup.

Great Britain’s favorite Indian dish tops the sahib garnish. Sharma’s Tikka Masala features diced paprika and onions in a rich broth of butter and masala (a blend of Indian spices) over vegetables, chicken, lamb or shrimp. Shahi korma, a mixture of cashews and almonds in a creamy curry sauce flavored with cardamom and anise seeds, has roots in the ancient North Indian empires. Vindaloo, unapologetically spicy—and clearly labeled—is here, too: chicken and potatoes marinated in yoghurt and freshly ground spices, grilled in a clay tandoor oven.

Sahib’s signature dish is the classic makhani, which is a tomato-based curry sauce containing a bit of cream. Sharma makes room on the menu for a popular Southern-style entree, a spicy Malabar curry, flavored with coconut milk and coconut flakes. The regular curry on the menu comes from the Sharma family’s recipe that has been passed down through generations. Diners can choose any of the sauces on chicken, shrimp and lamb.

Bread is one of the masterpieces of any Indian meal. The owner carries 11 varieties: regular whole wheat roti and vegan. Flour-based naan in plain flavor varieties; Three types of kulcha are bread stuffed with either Amol cheese or fruits and nuts. The mixed bread basket caters to newcomers who want to try several at once as well as the more experienced diners who love them all. Bread is the best way to savor the delicious sauces that Indian foods are famous for.

Carnivores who prefer meat on bread will enjoy tandoori chicken and other appetizers prepared in the traditional cylindrical clay oven: fish keka, lamb chops and beef sheikh kabob, tandoori shrimp and paneer tikka. There is also a mixed tandoori platter for diners who want a little bit of everything. Vegetarian selections include bengan bharta and smoked eggplant with garlic and ginger; spicy mix of okra in korkouri bindi; The del makhani is creamy, containing black lentils and beans slow cooked overnight and finished with herbs. The biryani features long-grain basmati rice in Sharma’s favorite blend of his grandmother’s favorite masala spice.

The owner amuses the kids with Kashmir Pulau, which mixes sweet rice with fruits and nuts, and yami in my belly, a bowl of butter chicken. Perennial kids’ favorite chicken nuggets and fries offer respite for parents whose kids still find a sense of adventure.

The owner of the Indian Bistro is a labor of love for Shyam Sharma. Foodies might recognize him as co-owner of Pakwaan on Hull Street Road, which opened in 2018. He left Pakwaan to pursue his own creative vision but didn’t know he would be burdened with the challenges of operating in a pandemic. Fortunately, 34 of the 70 seats are outdoors, and he says business has been growing steadily since the owner’s grand opening in June. Sharma’s goals are modest: to earn enough money to stay in business and continue to make people happy. “To deliver good food and delicious food to the community and people,” he says. “This is what we want.” ¦

Saheb Indian Bistro is located at 13126 Midlothian Turnpike. Phone: 804-893-3187. sahebindianbistro.com