(2007) Chutney’s, in the foodie’s mecca of Southside Village, is a “nabe.” At least that’s what we would have called it when I lived in Chicago, which abounds in small restaurants serving what once might quaintly have been thought of as “niche cuisine,” usually a style of cooking and foodstuffs associated with one particular patch of international turf.
Nabe was more than simple shorthand for a neighborhood favorite, a place where the locals were regulars and it seemed that everyone in the place knew everyone else. It was that, of course, but the primary qualification for attaining to that status was consistently good food at an everyday price. And sometimes a nabe’s rep spread well beyond the boundaries of its neighborhood, most often by word of mouth. And there you have Chutney’s in a nutshell.
Chutney’s is run by the husband-and-wife team of Ash Shukla and Denise May, who take turns cooking and tending to guests in the small dining room.
The dinner menu is split between classic Middle Eastern home cooking and that native to India. One page has a lengthy list of things like lamb or chicken kabobs, moussaka and pastichio, while the facing page offers an equally encyclopedic list of goodies like lamb vindaloo, gobi matar and the day’s veggie curry. Choose two dishes from either page, and the kitchen will send them piping hot to your table along with a Greek salad and warm pita wedges. The Middle Eastern combo goes for $12.95 and the Indian, which adds basmati rice to the plate, for $13.95 vegetarian or $14.95 for everything else. There are à la carte choices, too, and a lighter combo of snacks and appetizers for less hearty appetites. Chutney’s also serves lunch. To wash the satisfying chow down, there’s an international beer list that just won’t quit and a handful of wines.
Colette and I visited for dinner and immediately agreed to a division of labor. I took the Middle Eastern side of the menu and Colette stepped up to sample the Indian side. But first things first. From the big beer list she chose a favorite of long standing, Old Speckled Hen ale, and I was equally traditional with my choice of Newcastle Brown Ale, both brewed in the U.K.
For chow, Colette put together a combo starring roganjosh, a very lively lamb curry further pepped up by a hit of paprika and mellowed by a drop of yogurt, and saag aloo, a hearty stir fry of spinach and potatoes with garlic, ginger and coriander seeds. It proved to be a felicitous pairing.
I had equally good luck with a platter on which a chicken tarragon cutlet, a pounded breast coated in herbs and snappy bread crumbs and pan-fried to a satisfying crispness, was ably abetted by a terrific rendition of koo koo, a mile-high wedge of velvety spinach and egg pie under a light blanket of creamy yogurt chive sauce.
1944 Hillview St., Sarasota
Reservations (for parties of 4 or more): (941) 954-4444
Hours: lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5:30-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Cards: Visa and MC; $15 minimum purchase
Handicapped accessible: yes
Parking: on street