Grand India (Eagan, MN)
There's truth to the oft-repeated stories about timid Minnesotans disliking spicy food. Perhaps it stems from the collective Scandinavian consciousness, but many of us lacking a drop of Nordic blood in our veins recoil from hot and spicy foods. Trying the food from some remote land whose national dish is made with handfuls of spices might, therefore, seem like a dangerous idea.
We're not alone. Many Web sites explain Indian food to the British, a people whose traditional diet is no more exotic than roast beef. If the conservative Brits can wholeheartedly pursue lamb rogan josh, Minnesotans should fear not.
Grand India in Eagan is a worthy starting place. Any number of their dishes will give the hot-food haters at the table a chance to try complex and interesting spices that won't burn the palate.
Start with samosas, little pastry-like turnovers stuffed with potatoes and peas. An even better choice is the paneer pakora, a sort of Indian rendition of State Fair cheese curds.
The entrees are all standard northern Indian fare, the stuff you'll find in Indian restaurants everywhere. We suggest any dish called korma; this is a creamy yogurt sauce spiced with coconut, cardamom, cinnamon and garlic. This version is so lightly spiced, it's the perfect dish for suspicious skeptics. Any of the masala dishes are just a bit higher on the spice meter. Masala just means a combination of spices, so this dish can be based on chicken, shrimp and even vegetables.
The rogan josh is a bit hotter with some chili peppers, but it doesn't have as much sauce as a masala dish. Hotter yet is a vindaloo. We've had vindaloos that were too hot to eat in other restaurants, but here the spices aren't overwhelming. We liked it just fine, but we'll ask for it hotter next time.
Grand India serves many vegetarian dishes as well. Alu gobi is a particularly nice spiced cauliflower and potato dish. The vegetable biryani is a fried-rice dish; the vegetables were fresh and in nice big pieces.
All dishes can be ordered either mild, medium or hot. Ordering a normally hot dish as mild won't be authentic, but it will still be tasty.
Don't forget to order nan. Nan is an Indian baked flat bread, perfect for sopping up the sauces that come with the entrees. You can order it plain, but we prefer garlic or onion nan.
Grand India has several traditional desserts. We loved the gulab jamun: deep-fried dough made from powdered milk. This is the Indian equivalent of mini-doughnuts. The homemade kulfi -- ice cream from reduced milk -- is quite good, though not what you're used to from ice cream.
Grand India has an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet seven days a week: $8 on weekdays and $10 on weekends. The dishes vary, and it's a good way to sample several foods. Service can be slow, but it's always friendly. And don't worry about the spices. Once we visited with one of our wimpiest friends. He had a great meal.