The Menus of Madison County: Minar Fine Indian Cuisine

Without a tasty destination in mind this week, I finally gave in to my friend’s request for Indian food. With parents from the sub-continent, she was longing for a taste of home. Since I had already visited Indian Café in Clinton a few weeks ago, we did some research and settled on Minar (609 French Road) in New Hartford. You guessed it – right near Target! We even convinced another friend – an Indian food virgin – to take the journey with us and sample some spicy delicacies.

Minar is on a busy road with not much else around it, but we were able to easily spot the restaurant because of its festive Christmas lights decorating the windows. We walked in to find both a respectable dinner crowd for a Thursday night and tantalizing aromatics wafting from the kitchen.

We took a quick survey of our surroundings. Atop the unlit fireplace was a mantel that boasted hookahs and elephant statues while paintings of half-naked Hindu goddesses decorated the walls. My little Indian friend said she was immediately reminded of home.

Taking stock of the menu, we decided to order family-style and let our native friend take control of the decision-making. With the Indian food novice in mind, she thought chicken tikka masala would be a tame introduction to this spicy cuisine. For the veterans, she mixed it up with a lamb dish in a yogurt, tomato and onion sauce and paneer saagwala, a type of Indian cheese in a spinach sauce.

As we were finalizing our ordering strategy, the friendly owner came over to our table and struck up conversation. He asked us where we went to school (I guess our collegiate aura is inescapable) and, upon hearing our answer, revealed that he was also the proprietor of another fine establishment that was closer to Colgate – the Indian Café in Clinton. I was momentarily aggravated by this tidbit, but was placated as soon as a waiter delivered crispy papadum crackers with their accompanying chutnies (“like chips and salsa” according to my newbie dining companion) to our table.

After placing our order, the owner informed us that he would be sending over appetizers to our table, on the house. Never ones to refuse free food, we happily agreed to his generous offer, amused because he was obviously taking special interest in my Indian friend. Moments later a plate of crispy vegetable pakoras arrived. Similar to potato pancakes, these small brown bits of heaven were mounds of roughly chopped potatoes and onions, fried to utter perfection. The meal was off to a great start.

Our main dishes arrived in a flurry of colors and aromas, enticing us to design plates with rice, naan (both garlic and plain) and our various entrees. I was anxious to try the paneer saagwala, a dish I had never had before. The saagwala sauce was divine: deep green and thick with robust notes of garlic and ginger, it happily blanketed cubes of dense paneer cheese (consistency similar to tofu). We soaked up the sauce with various kinds of naan – chewy, garlicky, warm perfection – on our way to culinary nirvana.

 The chicken tikka masala was also a hit. I was nervous that the sauce would have a condensed tomato soup taste, as its cousin at Indian Café did, but the juicy chicken coated in smooth tomato and yogurt sauce put my fears to rest. Not too sweet with just the right amount of kick, this dish also won resounding approval from the table.

As we began to sample our final dish, our gracious waiter presented us with chicken biryani, yet another plate that we didn’t order. This dish was fragrant basmati rice studded with onions, peppers, garlic and chicken and robustly spiced with turmeric, black pepper and chili powder – we were nearing our limits to the amount of food we could physically consume. We had to make a strategic decision and chose to focus our attention on the lamb dish instead – succulent meat surrounded by a light tomato, onion and yogurt sauce.At the urging of our waiter, we took the largely untouched biryani home as well as the other leftovers (upon my return from dollar drafts later that night, the biryani was a welcome sight to see). With our stomachs bursting and enough leftovers for another full meal, the parade of free offerings finally stopped and we asked for the check.

Minar was a hit with all three of our different palates – a newbie, a moderate sampler and a native (I say this even though she is really from New Jersey, as the owner disappointingly found out later). With friendly service and delectable dishes, Minar is a worthy destination, though it might help your wallet to bring along any Indian friends you may have.