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Spice of Life


Last Updated: 08/13/2013 4:18 pm
Diners enjoying Suruchi’s south indian cuisine. - AMBER S. CLARK
  • Amber S. Clark
  • Diners enjoying Suruchi’s south indian cuisine.
Four years ago, husband-and-wife team Peter and Shelly Fagiola resurrected the site of a former coffeeshop off of Main Street in downtown New Paltz with the intention of creating a space where anyone could walk in and enjoy live Indian music while dining on a variety of homemade food from the subcontinent. Peter, a devoted musician with a master’s degree in world music from CalArts, envisioned a sanctuary for visiting and local musicians to perform and collaborate. But, soon after beginning to revitalize the site, Peter and Shelly saw the project take a natural progression—to a fully realized restaurant, with music playing merely a supporting role to the entity that was to become Suruchi.
The couple had spent years studying music and sharing spiritual practices with their guru, Guruji Taranath Rao, and soaking up the food and culture of India. This, along with several trips to the South Asian country, fueled their desire to venture headlong into hand-creating their ideal restaurant and shrine to Indian cuisine. While Shelly is a nutritionist and previously ran a health food store in Pine Bush, neither of them had any restaurant experience. But the yearning to create a unique atmosphere to encounter healthful home-cooked Indian fare pushed them through two years of electrical work, plumbing, and general toil.

The result is a genial destination with all the flowing warmth and intimacy of a yoga studio and a menu unequaled by other local Indian restaurants. There are a dozen tables running the length of the gold-and-saffron-hued room with red oak floors and keyhole nooks in the walls, decorated with a variety of iconic Hindu deities. The best seats in the house are the couchlike divans that afford one the luxury of sitting in a traditional Indian style, cross-legged and shoeless—an ideal way to slow down and enjoy a meal.

Suruchi, which is Sanskrit for good taste, or, more literally, “good interest,” features a menu that is largely inspired by the vegetarian cuisine of southern India. Anyone who knows India knows that there isn’t one singular cuisine representative of the entire country, but several identified with individual states, ethnic enclaves, and evolving regional histories. Yet the majority of Indian restaurants in the US take the heavier northern Indian cooking as their prime influence. Suruchi features classic northern vegetable curries, along with dishes like goan (mixed vegetables in coconut gravy, $10.95), which is inspired by the Portuguese influence of the southwestern coast of India. However, the standout items on the menu are the very regional south Indian dosas (a dish that requires a certain skill to prepare and is rarely offered at other local Indian restaurants). Made from a fermented rice-and-lentil batter with any number of fillings, the dosa serves as a tried-and-true south Indian staple—both as a street food and a home-cooked favorite. Similar to a pancake or crepe, the traditional dosa is crisply fried and loosely rolled into a long tunnel (often exceeding the length of your plate) and filled with a mixture of spicy potatoes and peas. Suruchi offers this incarnation, known as the beloved masala dosa ($8.95), as well as eight other varieties with fillings that range from creamed spinach to free-range scrambled eggs, all of which are served with a choice of homemade chutneys.
While dosas are the prominent offerings on the menu, there exists a whole population of distinctive items to be tried. A yogurt cream sauce consisting of ground almonds and cashews, sautéed cauliflower, and peas by the name of korma ($14.95 with free-range chicken or $16.95 with wild shrimp), a dish most popular in the Bengali region of India, is a welcome and hearty alternative to the ubiquitous curry found at nearly every Indian eatery. A buoyant tomato-and-coconut soup ($4.95 for a large bowl), also a south Indian specialty, is mildly spicy and peppered with black mustard seeds and green, aromatic curry leaves imported from India. (It came as a surprise to me that there was such a thing as a curry leaf, and Peter proudly claims they are “the heart and soul of Indian cooking”). There is uttapam ($8.50 to $10.50), fluffy rice-and-lentil pancakes made with flour ground with a hefty stone grinder.
Suruchi uses only filtered water in all of its cooking, and all yogurt and traditional paneer cheese is homemade, using hormone- and antibiotic-free milk from Boice Dairy in Kingston. Both the tofu and rice are always organic and everything is cooked with and served on traditional stainless-steel or cast-iron cookware (also imported from India). Suruchi does not use aluminum, a popular cooking material that Peter emphatically insists is “slow poison,” and which has been linked to everything from Alzheimer’s to kidney failure.
In addition, most everything is gluten-free for those with wheat allergies or who have found themselves in the down-with-gluten camp. The obvious exception is Suruchi’s selection of addictive homemade breads. From a whole-wheat roti ($2.50), which is light and pleasantly crisp, to a dense and chewy buttered paratha ($2.95), all of the breads make ideal accompaniments to the rich and peppery sauces that envelop most of the entrees. However, it would be a grand injustice if you were to miss the naan ($2.95), which is homemade as well and fired to bubbling perfection in the clay tandoor oven.
Indian desserts tend to border on cloying sweetness due to the rabid love of sugar on the subcontinent. So it comes as a pleasant surprise that Suruchi desserts maintain the traditional flavor and character of India without utilizing a kilo of sugar with each offering. Kheer ($4) is a cardamom-accented rice pudding that holds all the warmth and comfort of rich eggnog. The gulabjamin ($4) is a rich, milky doughnut resting in a thin sugar syrup that is curiously addictive and best washed down with a cup of homemade spiced chai ($2.95). Other, more Western-influenced sweets are also offered up, such as tofu chocolate mousse ($7) and spiced glazed pears with cinnamon and ginger topped with a dark chocolate sauce ($5).
A small but satisfying beer and wine list, with an emphasis on regional and boutique brands, rounds out the offerings. Bottles of Ommegang from Cooperstown, Magic Hat from Burlington, and Brooklyn Lager represent the regional brews, and the requisite Indian imports like Flying Horse and Kingfisher are also on hand to douse the heat of some of the more fiery dishes. The wine list, with 13 red, white, and sparkling choices, is equally as impressive, with special intention made for food pairings. Machmer gewurztraminer ($34 bottle) and Veranda pinot noir ($32 bottle) stand out as two of the more appealing selections.
Now into its second year of business, Suruchi is routinely packed with families, college kids, and amorous couples speaking in hushed tones over shared plates of samosas. Peter and Shelly seem as happy as they are overworked; owning and operating their own eatery appears for them to be as much a labor of love as a continuing source of inspiration. Everything about the ethos and approach of Suruchi refers back to their respective pasts. Peter sporadically books visiting musicians for casual concerts of traditional Indian music that temporarily take over the restaurant, and Shelly brings her expertise in the field of nutrition to inform menu choices and the holistic approach of the dining experience. She points to a plate of fennel seeds resting on the counter for departing diners to consume as a digestive and imparts, with a smile, “The digestion process is conducive to the whole experience of eating here.”

Suruchi, 5 Church St., New Paltz; (845) 255-2772; www. suruchiindian.com.
Lunch: Friday and Saturday, 12-3pm; Dinner: Wednesday and Thursday, 5-9pm; Friday and Saturday, 5-10pm; Sunday, 4-9pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday

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