By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
There are two tandoors in the kitchen. The walls of one are used to bake nan breads, which come "naked" or padded with various fillings — wonderful either way. The other tandoor roasts the rest, including lamb, chicken, and shrimp, at up to 800 degrees. A taste of all three is offered in a sampler: Pieces of chicken breast cooked in the tandoor were moist and heartily charred, as was a drumstick in a marinade of mustard oil and fenugreek. A pair of juicy shrimp was downright succulent, but mushy gray cubes of lamb were awful. Rice really should be included with this $24.95 meal, but it isn't; a bowl of bland basmati costs $3.95.
The spices of Goa are among India's most assertive, usually a curry-ish blend of coconut, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, and hot chili peppers. So it was disappointing that a fresh fillet of Goan snapper in curried coconut sauce, though gratifying, was so tamely seasoned it, too, could have originated with Campbell's soup. Ishq's food in general is tamped down (perhaps for Ocean Drive tourists), and the fragrance of spices such as cloves, cinnamon, and star anise is barely noticeable.
Such complaints don't apply to desserts, which are smaller and better than those at any Indian restaurant in town. Custardy rice pudding (kheer) whispers alluring hints of cardamom, orange peel, and Grand Marnier. Creamy-smooth mango pot de crème is subtly informed by the tropical fruit, a small piece of which lays across the pudding and exudes a faint whiff of saffron. Kulfi is classic, made from milk that has been boiled and reduced with flavoring, in this case cardamom (with an even fainter saffron whiff), then placed in a conical device, and frozen into a densely chewy ice cream. (Unlike its Western counterpart, kulfi has no air whipped into it.)
One evening, while we were sitting outdoors, somebody upstairs twisted the faucet knob — literally seconds after our waiter finished extolling the waterproofing virtues of the oversize umbrella above us. Alas, he didn't take in the wind factor. Smaller umbrellas were employed to escort diners indoors (two at a time), but almost everybody entered the restaurant with their backs wet. Luckily for us, if not for the business, the sparse number of patrons could fit at the 14-seater, with a few stools left over. We hadn't yet ordered, unlike the couple next to us who arrived inside a few minutes before their half-eaten dinners did. Their plates didn't look wet, but the meals couldn't have been very warm at that point — my point being it is advisable to consult the Weather Channel before making reservations.