I wanted to write something about Raga- the relatively new Indian fine-dining experience on Restaurant Row in Dr. Phillips. I had first visited this place a few weeks after it first opened- when it was only functioning in the evening for dinner, but I waited off on a report so Raga’s timeline was a little longer than a hot second.
You should know right off the bat that Raga is indeed one of the prettier establishments – in fact, THE prettiest establishment when it comes to décor, ambiance, place-settings, lighting, and food presentation. This has not changed since the beginning of its opening. However, there are some things that have changed.
I tried the following dishes this time- Raj Kachori ($6), Aloo Pardesi ($10), Lasooni Saag Paneer ($14), Chandni Korma ($14), Chatpata Naan ($3) and for a libation, a Sweet Lassi ($3).
The Raj Kachori was described on the menu as being “stuffed with sprouts” but there was none in the appetizer. It was medium-spiced with a slight kick towards the end. A very time-sensitive dish once prepared, black garbanzo beans, yogurt, mint/green chutneys softened the crisp fried wafer to what was a soggy, muddled, appetizer rather than a crunchy, layered one. Nevertheless, it was tangy, tasty, and not overly seasoned. The Aloo Pardesi was wonderful and promised all the ingredients that were listed on the menu (potato barrels stuffed with cashews, mixed vegetables, served on the bed of sautéed vegetables with touches of mint-basil dipping sauce). The raw slivers of red radish skewed the profile to bitter and I just wish there was more chutney or something moist since the dish as a whole was very dry two bites into it. In short, I was looking for some moistness in the Pardesi and a little more dryness in Kachori.
Saag paneer was a superb concoction- a wonderfully medium-spiced sauce intertwined with soft paneer cubes and then further garnished with shredded paneer. The sauce itself was a supremely smooth herb purée with great notes of herbaceous spinach, ginger, garlic, and cumin in a well-balanced recipe. Chandni Korma with its vegetables (some type of squash and cauliflower) in a creamy yogurt sauce with dried apricots and almonds was divine. The oil in the dish started to separate from the sauce mid-meal. However, the smooth flavor from all those wonderful Indian spices was very soothing. The Chatpata Naan was lack-luster. Basil, which the menu described, was absent in it and no matter how finely one minces and spreads cilantro, the two do not taste the same. Bottom line- it was a garlic naan with sparse and minute green flecks that was meant to substitute for the real thing. The sweet Lassi was pure yogurt, sugar, and water and not as thick and rich as other establishments serve.
IN A NUTSHELL: Food fare is standard here that will appeal to most. The prices are competitive with a good range of variation that goes beyond the standard selections that you would find in another Indian restaurant. The food presentation and the ambiance is probably the best for Indian restaurants in town. The service was attentive. Most (if not all) of the servers here are non-Indian so please overlook that they cannot pronounce food items correctly. Indians were reserved for the kitchen and the FOH maître d'- and this is not exactly a good thing because a large party of smarmy men were seen trying to sneak in their own alcohol without waiting to be sat and then pulling their server aside to bribe him away from a corkage fee (Rajiv should have handled this better and showed them the door as other patrons were looking on to see what is and isn’t permissible at Raga). Only time will tell if Raga will flourish or perish- but it is my hope that fine dining standards are adhered to- on the menu as well as on the floor.