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Something New For Newtown'sDining Menu: Indian Food



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Something New For Newtown’s

Dining Menu: Indian Food

By Kaaren Valenta

Sunderban, the “beautiful forest,” with a unique mangrove ecosystem, is one of the largest deltas of the world, situated between India and Bangladesh. There the magnificent royal Bengal tigers roam with pride.

The lilting strains of Indian music gently drift through the dining room at The Sunderban Restaurant on South Main Street. Fabric-covered walls lushly embroidered with gold and silver threads replicate the inside of an emperor’s palace.

Elegantly dressed in a fine silk sari, Zannat Chowdhury, better known as Shathy, greets customers as they enter Newtown’s newest restaurant. She knows many of these diners as frequent customers at Mona Lisa, the popular restaurant owned by her husband, Sam Chowdhury.

“We believe this area is ready for an Indian restaurant, and Newtown is a good location that will draw customers from all the surrounding towns,” Mr Chowdhury said. “So when this place [formerly Pasta Fresca restaurant] became available again, we decided to take advantage of it. We bought it in January and then spent more than two months completely renovating it. We want you to feel that you went to India for the evening.”

Since 1986 Sam Chowdhury has been a successful restaurateur in Newtown, first as chef of George’s Pizza & Restaurant on Route 302 in Dodgingtown, then in 1990 as the chef and co-owner of Mona Lisa. Three years ago he bought out his partner, James Antonopoulos, who also owns the Pizza Palace.

“When we opened Mona Lisa, people said Newtown didn’t need another Italian restaurant and [that] a restaurant in a shopping plaza would never work,” Mr Chowdhury recalled. “But just like at George’s, people came – we had long lines out the door. If you serve good food, people will come.”

It was a lesson he learned over many years in the restaurant business after leaving Bangladesh 22 years ago. “My father had a shipping business there in Chittagong, a port city on the Bay of Bengal and the second largest town in Bangladesh,” he explained. “Everything there was regulated by the government and the officials were very corrupt. To do business, you had to bribe everyone – the peon, the secretary/clerk, the junior executive, the senior executive. I didn’t want to learn the system. I’d go and not get the job done. It was very frustrating.”

Looking for new opportunities, he came to the United States and, like many new arrivals, began working in restaurants. He showed a considerable talent for the business and eventually became a chef at Euttruci’s in Stamford and then Rocco’s in Westport. In 1989, during a visit back to Chittagong, he met Shathy, who was a college student. They married two years later.

 “I’ve always been involved with restaurants that serve Italian food,” Sam Chowdhury said. “But other ethnic food has become very popular, so we thought the time was right to have an Indian restaurant. Most of the food we serve is northern Indian, with a few dishes from southern India.”

Sunderban offers a large selection of vegetarian dishes made with vegetables, legumes, and grains, plus many chicken, lamb, and seafood entrees. To introduce Indian food to diners who may be unfamiliar, the Chowdhurys offer – besides the regular menu – a buffet lunch with six different entrees, salad, and dessert for $8.95 on Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm.

“The buffet changes every day,” Shathy Chowdhury said. “Everything is always prepared fresh.”

On Saturday and Sunday from noon to 3 pm there is a brunch buffet, with everything from appetizers through dessert, for $13.95.

Unique to Indian cuisine is the tandoori oven, a clay oven in which many types of Indian bread are baked as are chicken, lamb, and seafood that have been marinated in yogurt and a lightly spiced sauce. The breads include Roti, roasted whole wheat flat bread; naan, a soft white flour bread that also is offered in garlic, onion, and cheese varieties; paratha, a multi-layered buttered bread also made in several varieties, including one – keema paratha – that is stuffed with minced lamb, spices, and herbs.

“All breads are cooked to order,” Mr Chowdhury said. “They are placed against the clay wall of the oven. The chef doesn’t add anything. It is a lot of work, but it is very healthy to eat.”

A large assortment of vegetarian and non-vegetarian appetizers is offered, including two combination platters, served with two sauces, a spicy red tamarind and a green mint sauce. Raita, yogurt with shreds of cucumber and carrot, is a cooling side dish. Other favorites are sweet mango chutney, spicy mango pickles, and very spicy mango or lime pickles.

“Indian food isn’t all spicy hot,” Mr Chowdhury said. “We can make it to taste – light, medium, or spicy, any way you want. Dishes that are described as vindaloo are very hot.”

A dozen vegetarian dishes are offered including a complete family style dinner for two, including appetizers, soup, main course, and dessert, for $34.95 (just ask for hot or mild). A similar combination dinner for two including chicken or lamb dishes is $39.95.

Vegetarian entrees are $9.95-$11.95; chicken and lamb, $12.95-$14.95; seafood, mostly $16.95; biryani dishes, made with saffron rice, raisins, almonds, pistachios and ghee (clarified butter) are $10.95-$16.95; tandoori $12.95-$16.95. There’s also a daily fish special. Entrees are served with plain rice or saffron buttered basmati rice.

The menu describes each dish. Shrimp Saag, for example, features jumbo shrimp sautéed with fresh spinach in a creamy mild curry sauce. Begun Bartha is fresh eggplant baked and finished in the pan with onion, green peas, and light seasonings. Lamb Ragon Josh contains cubes of lamb cooked in a garlic and ginger sauce.

Desserts, $3.25 to $4.95, include a traditional pistachio ice cream called Khulfi; Gulab Jamun, a sweet and soft light cheese dessert; Rasmalai, a cheese dessert soaked in pistachio flavored cream sauce; Kheer, traditional basmati rice pudding; mango or French vanilla ice cream; Tortufo and double chocolate cake.

The Chowdhurys brought some of the staff from Mona Lisa to help with the new restaurant.

“I believe in consistency in everything because you can be assured of getting the same food no matter when you come to the restaurant,” Sam Chowdhury said. “I try to keep the same kitchen staff, the same wait staff, the same suppliers. Most have been with me since day one. The key to keeping staff is to pay well and to treat them like family. And to keep your promises.”

Sunderban offers a large selection of wine from around the world and has a full bar (including 15 different varieties of scotch). From India there are non-alcoholic drinks made with yogurt and mango. “We also serve several cappuccinos. Why not? People like it,” Mr Chowdhury said.

 .Sunderban is a non-smoking restaurant. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express are accepted. In addition to the lunch and buffet brunch hours above, the restaurant is open for dinner on Tuesday through Saturday, from 5 to 10 pm, and Sunday, from noon to 9 pm. Closed on Monday. For more information, call 426-7143.

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