This is my second First Bite report of the week. Check back tomorrow for a report on Merende. All three First Bites will be printed in this Friday’s GO section.
Sumay Fine Indian Cuisine
Where: 12623 Meridian Ave., Puyallup
Phone: 253-770-6276; www.sumaycuisine.com
Menu overview: Solidly northern Indian, heavy on Punjabi dishes.
Price: $ (Entrees under $14)
It’s a dining miracle when a maki sushi restaurant AND an Indian restaurant open in the same week in Puyallup. The Puyallup restaurant scene always has been a market ripe for culinary interest. An Indian restaurant, especially an upscale one like Sumay, is exactly what Puyallup’s South Hill has needed.
Sumay is located in the old Noodle Corner Thai restaurant in the same strip mall as a martial arts school (foodie shopping note: Pepe’s, a grocery store that carries Mexican groceries is nearby behind the 7-11). Sumay opened just before Christmas.
Sumay’s new owners remodeled the interior, muting the decor for a more sophisticated vibe. Dark wood floors –paired with an earthy palette on the walls and fabric curtains on the windows – lend an appealing, welcoming atmosphere. Like the former Noodle Corner before it, the kitchen is small and busy, which is difficult to mute in a small 28-seat restaurant. A soundtrack of Indian music did help drown the minor kitchen bustle (it was not overly distracting, just … noticeable).
The menu is solidly northern Indian, heavy on Punjabi dishes and focused on higher end preparations and presentations. Prices are a bit higher than some Indian restaurants in South Sound – in the $12-$15 range for entrees – but the restaurant is higher concept. A lunch buffet will begin in a few weeks (for $9.95), owner Ramesh Kumar told me this week. This is the fourth restaurant for Kumar. He also operates Indian restaurants in Silverdale (Gandhi Indian Cuisine), Vashon (All India Café) and Bainbridge Island (Spice Route). His reason for opening in Puyallup? “There’s no other Indian restaurant within at least 10 miles,” he told me.
The service is gracious, friendly and relaxed. On my visit last week, Kumar made his way around the room, politely chatting up diners. Have a question about Indian food? Just ask. I heard him succinctly explain dishes to those seated at tables around us.
Our meal started with the keema samosas, pastry filled with spiced, ground lamb and spiked with peas. They were flavorful and rich, and made even better from a drizzle of the tartly sweet tamarind sauce from the condiment tray (house-made hot sauce and mint chutney are also offered as condiments). My only wish was that the samosa filling was a bit less loose and dry. I rarely eat lamb samosas, preferring the potato and pea vegetarian variation, but the flavor of this version definitely held my interest.
A standard northern Indian lamb curry ($11.95) was a solid choice. Fork-tender lamb chunks came in a rich, tomato sauce heady with garlic, ginger and onion and an aromatic blend of spices. Unlike many Indian restaurants that use a lot of cream or oils to add richness to a curry sauce, this curry had less fat, but was still deeply flavored from the tomato-based sauce. Kumar told me by phone later that the restaurant uses less cream and oil in its cooking in a nod toward more flavorful, but healthy, Indian homestyle cooking.
Lamb curry must be enjoyed with basmati rice, but it comes as a separate side. You can order the rice plain ($2.50) or as pulao or biriyani (more complex rice dishes, many with meat). At our server’s suggestion, we ordered the pulao rice ($4.95). It was buttery, and bright yellow from the addition of saffron threads and studded with cumin seeds, peas and onions.
Naan, Indian flatbread, gets its own section on the menu, along with other Indian breads. We contemplated keema naan ($4.25, stuffed with lamb) and saag naan ($4.25, stuffed with spinach), but opted instead for a straightforward garlic naan ($2.75). It was perfectly cooked in the tandoori oven – puffy and smoky charred, and covered with minced coriander leaves and chopped garlic. It made for a great pairing to scoop up the bhartha ($9.95), a vegetarian roasted eggplant dish that was creamy rich and mildly spiced. It was a perfect balance of sweet, creamy and aromatically spicy. And speaking of spice, you can up or lower the spicy in each dish by request. The kitchen skews on the moderate side of the spice scale – a request for three star medium spicy came nicely spiced, as requested. If you’re sensitive to spice, the kitchen will adjust the seasonings.
A note on ordering economically. The dinner for two appears bargain priced at $37.95. It comes with a samosa or pakora appetizer, tandoori chicken, a choice of chicken or lamb curry, a vegetarian dish of your choice, naan, rice and dessert. A vegetarian version also is available for $32.95. For a first visit, that’s a great choice.