The keema samosas arrived at the table still sizzling from the fryer. There were just two to the order, which might have seemed chintzy had each piece not been the size of a softball. As my knife pierced one of the golden-brown fritters, it released a fragrant plume of steam, perfuming the entire booth with the scent of cardamom and cloves. One thing was clear: There was never a more aptly named restaurant than Aroma Indian Grill.
Aroma Indian Grill sits just north of Interstate 270 on Lindbergh Boulevard in Hazelwood. In theory, the suburbs north of St. Louis aren't exactly a hotbed of ethnic cuisine. But the ever-increasing number of halal markets, Middle Eastern restaurants, and Thai and Mexican joints suggests the contrary. Aroma added itself to this international mix this August, opening in a large, stand-alone building that used to house a Chinese buffet.
The digs are cavernous — the space is large enough to serve as a small banquet hall — and sparsely decorated. A few black and red banquettes line the walls; chairs and tables in that same color scheme dot the room. I noticed no paintings or artwork, nor the obligatory statue of Ganesh or any other gods in the Hindu pantheon. The focus here is on food, not aesthetics.
- Mabel Suen
- Inside Aroma Grill.
Aroma uses the same playbook as nearly every other Indian restaurant in town — a comprehensive tome that seems to contain every subcontinental dish ever served on American soil. The one notable difference, however, is that Aroma lets diners choose their desired spice level on a ten-point scale for nearly every item on the menu (for the lunch buffet, it serves most items at a five).
The aforementioned keema samosas were not only a feast for the nose. The large fritters — think of a crab Rangoon on steroids — are filled with small cubes of potatoes, yellow lentils, and aromatic herbs and spices. While good enough on their own, they were outstanding when paired with the accompanying dipping sauce. I had a difficult time choosing which I liked best: a jammy-sweet tamarind chutney or a refreshing mint sauce the consistency of pesto, accented with cilantro.
We took our server's suggestion and ordered the lamb seekh kabob, a ground lamb sausage mixed with spices like cardamom and fennel seed, and rubbed with a chile seasoning. The lamb is cooked in the searing-hot tandoor clay oven, so it arrived still steaming on a bed of onions and peppers. The tender meat had a snappy casing and moist interior. And though I find mint jelly to be an abomination, the delicate mint dipping sauce that remained on the table from the appetizer course demonstrated why cooks first started pairing mint with lamb — it proved to be an ideal condiment.
- Mabel Suen
- Meenu Kaur and Manpreet Singh.
Forget pumpkin spice. It's hard to beat Aroma Indian Grill's butter chicken — or murgh makhani, if you want to fool yourself with a less indulgent name — as the perfect flavor profile for cool autumn days. Pulled chicken is simmered in a creamy tomato sauce that's lightly scented with cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, evoking a marriage between a rich chicken casserole and pumpkin pie filling. I ordered mine with a heat level of four for just a suggestion of spice and ladeled it over fragrant jasmine rice. My only complaint is that the dish was sparse on the chicken.
Aroma's chicken curry is standard: yellow curry, vegetables, dark-meat chicken. I preferred the lamb vindaloo in which hunks of lamb and potatoes swim in a piquant vinegar and tomato sauce. Vindaloo should be hot, so I ordered this at an eight. It was spicy indeed, though I didn't break that much of a sweat.
Aside from the samosas, my favorite dish at Aroma is tadka daal, a vegetarian yellow lentil stew. Garlic, ginger and white onions seasoned the rich, curry-like sauce. And though I am used to seeing channa masala on Indian menus, the channa saag at Aroma is a welcome alternative: Chickpeas simmered in coriander-flecked creamed spinach are a worldly cousin of the ubiquitous steakhouse side dish.
- Mabel Suen
- Tadka daal, butter chicken and gazar halwa.
Allow me to backpedal. Yes, the samosas are outstanding and the lentil stew warmed my soul. Dare I say, however, that the best thing here is a simple carrot dish? I was not prepared for the gazar halwa, a warm pile of shredded carrots, milk and sugar. The bright orange vegetables looked unassuming enough, but one taste proved its status as a powerhouse. The cinnamon- and nutmeg-spiked carrots would have worked as nicely as a pie filling as they did on their own. Slow-cooking the carrots brought out their sweetness, and the sugar and spices only added to the effect. It was the unexpected highlight of the meal.
Aroma makes its own mango ice cream, which is served more like miniature mango sorbet pops: Triangles of the frozen fruit are placed in a dish and garnished with whipped cream and sliced almonds. I enjoyed the taste, but the icy-solid texture made it difficult to eat with a spoon.
- Mabel Suen
- Tandoori chicken is marinated in fresh garlic, ginger, yogurt and spices.
Aroma offers a lunch buffet seven days a week, so you can sample a broad range of the restaurant's specialties. It's not that different from the other Indian buffets in town, though I did notice a larger selection of vegetarian dishes than most — and it's the first time I've ever seen turnips on offer.
And that pretty much sums up Aroma Indian Grill. Is it all that different than any other Indian restaurant I've been to? Not really. But as I continue to dream of those carrots and the scent of those samosas, it's clear that Aroma has found a few wonderful ways to stand out from the pack.