No one at Chutney’s is afraid of heat, salt, or spices. At this Indian fast-food spot in The Garage in Harvard Square, and in The Longwood Galleria, you order a main course and choose how to eat it — rolled as a paratha, tucked inside nan and heated as a “nanini,” or served in a bowl.
Think of Chutney’s, which is well suited as a food court option, as an Indian Chipotle’s. Owner Sanjay Kansagra, a former software engineer, explains that the original concept for the places (Longwood is almost a year old; Harvard Square has been open 2½ years) is based on a North Indian wrap called kati (also kathi). The original version is a wrap of meat, onions, and lime.
At Chutney’s, a wheat-based paratha comes with meat or vegetables and rice (brown, white, or biryani). With this and all the variations, you also choose garnishes (red onions, tomatoes, cilantro, etc.), and a sauce. The wrap packs a carb punch, but the aromatic herbs and crisp vegetables, along with a hot or sweet or sour sauce, make the roll inviting.
Lamb curry paratha ($6.99) has tender meat in a mildly hot, nicely seasoned sauce. Spinach lamb bowl with biryani ($6.99) is another well-flavored mixture, though dark and pitifully homely. Chutney’s lamb on white rice ($6.99) only needs cilantro and a few scallions, no additional sauce, and it’s very good.
When you order at the counter, servers are dipping into what is essentially a steam table to scoop out your food. For most of these meats and vegetables, time spent sitting means flavors are mellowing. That should help saag saag paneer ($5.49), the vegetarian dish of homemade white cheese and spinach, but it doesn’t. It should have a livelier green base. Before the paratha is wrapped, ask for, say, tamarind sauce and lots of onion to perk it up.
Sauces tend to be sweet and look a lot like dipping sauces you get at other fast-food establishments for things like chicken fingers. Here, a yogurt-chutney sauce, in an almost-pourable consistency, hasn’t much flavor. But masala chili, a brick-red spicy sauce, has lots of warm heat. Mango chutney sauce will add sweetness. Those who need things alarmingly spicy should get firecracker sauce.
Chicken chili nanini ($6.99) holds another good, spicy filling, but after ordering three different nanini — the filled rounds, folded in half, are heated in a panini pan — we decide that the bread actually detracts from the savory mixtures inside it. This nan is a little gummy and never really heats through. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to order a quick curry and a dry, puffy nan on the side?
All the food for the two locations is made in Harvard Square, and both places have servers who take care with the food and seem well trained.
The exceptional biryani rice at Harvard isn’t available at Longwood one day, and momos (99 cents each), thin pasta-like pleated nubbins holding savory ground meat, aren’t at Longwood either. Both locations offer delicious samosas ($1.50), crisp triangular pastries with a spicy potato filling, and mango lassi ($1.99), a very pretty orange color with just the right sweetness.
America is on a sandwich kick. Everything good is better between two wheaty slabs. Wraps seem to be evolving as the next incarnation of this handy, portable food and here is paratha to join in. The kati trend is gaining momentum in New York.
Kansagra has plans to open another Chutney’s in a suburban location. I can imagine these shops everywhere, doing well, serving customers on the run who didn’t even know they liked Indian food.Sheryl Julian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.