FAMILIAR, NEW AND AUTHENTIC: SIAA OFFERS A VARIETY OF FARE FOR ANY DINER, NO MATTER HOW ADVANCED OR NOVICE THE PALATE
I’ve been a fan of Indian food ever since I tried my first lamb vindaloo at a little hole-in-the-wall joint a few blocks from my dorm room. So I’ve been eager to get over to Siaa, Wilmington’s newest venture into Indian cuisine. Siaa promises an authentic Indian dining experience, featuring dishes not commonly offered at more Americanized Indian restaurants. That’s reason enough for a critic to darken the door.
I loved Siaa. My first visit yielded only two complaints, neither about the food, may I add: the garish goldenrod paint assaulting my eyes and the remarkably shrill toddler assaulting my ears. Thankfully, one of them was gone by the time I got my appetizer.
Because Siaa specifically seeks to expand the American understanding of pan-Indian dining, I made a silent bargain with myself to eschew dishes with which I was already familiar. I indulged in a moment of self-pity at skipping the vindaloo and looked over the menu for the unknown.
I settled on a live crab dish, marked on the menu as the proprietor’s favorite. Yet, my order was thwarted when I was told it wasn’t available that evening. Fresh ingredients are more delicious but less readily available—I get it. At least they knew the way to get me back. I ordered the scallop appetizer and started poring over the menu for another entree.
The scallops were grilled beautifully, with just a touch of char and not a bit of the rubbery quality that ruins them. The yogurt tasted mild and pleasant, and overall the dish lacked the spicy character we in the U.S. normally associate with Indian food. Score one for Siaa came in its efforts to change the way I think about the Indian diet.
I settled on a minced lamb dish completely unfamiliar to me, in spite of the warnings from the waitress that it might be a bit dry. Her unheeded warning proved prescient, as the sausage-style preparation wasn’t as moist or tender as I’d normally enjoy in lamb. But the spice profile was elegant, and a little bit of dipping curry took care of the moisture issue. I don’t know that I’d go back for it, but I’m glad I branched out a bit.
I made a small concession on my promise to experiment with new food when I ordered the mixed bread basket. I was given several variations of naan, with which I am well familiar. But I couldn’t pass up the chance to dip bread in the lovely sauces served along with it. The naan proved traditional, but I particularly enjoyed the garlicky variety.
The bread came with another surprise: My waitress informed me that because this was my first visit she had ordered some curry to go with my bread. I will preface this by saying: I do not introduce myself as a critic, and I dine as incognito as possible when I’m reviewing. So chances that she sought to win me over with free food are next to nil. This seemed to be a simple act of kindness from a new restaurant trying to build a following.What followed was a delightful mixed yellow curry dish, featuring potato, chicken and lamb. I was promised medium heat but actually found it a little mild. The potato proved a touch undercooked, but the lamb was an absolute triumph. Tender and soaked, I found it as lean as any cut I’ve sampled. Still, in spite of the lack of visible fat, the meat was as flavorful as more unctuous morsels.
I returned to Siaa a few days later during lunch, looking to try the Uthappam—a traditional pancake entree which the menu likens to an Indian pizza. However, upon taking my seat, an affable waiter guided me to the buffet without offering a menu. I chose to go with the flow, although I had to forsake my earlier vow to experiment with unfamiliar cuisine. I got over it after a couple of delicious tandoori chicken drumsticks. Some people find the bright, reddish hue of tandoori chicken off-putting, but I think the mild spiciness should not be missed. Siaa does a pleasant version of it.
I tried a curried goat dish, only to be reminded that goat does not impress me. Siaa’s kitchen staff did a proper job of tenderizing the meat; failure to do so is disastrous due to the tough flesh of goat. Still, as I’ve found in the past, goat comes with far too many bones and far too little meat. While this was a better effort than I’ve seen before, and the most I’ve ever enjoyed goat, I’d still suggest omnivores stick with the lamb.
The buffet had a few treats, including biryani onion, a fried vegetable offering that added a bit of extra oily flavor. And I tried a few wonderful desserts. The custard with apples slices wasn’t as heavily sweetened as American or European styles, and blended in vanilla nicely. The fresh fruit on the buffet was a nice touch as well, but a word of warning: If you’re accustomed to seedless grapes, you’re going to get a surprise.
Siaa has a plethora of reasons for a return trip: I didn’t even get to try their flavored teas. I keep promising myself that I’m going to do a vegetarian tour of Wilmington eateries, and Siaa’s menu will keep me more than a little busy on that front. I’ll probably skip the buffet from now on, but I usually like to skip buffets, so that’s nothing new.
Siaa shines on their dinner menu alone—a nice blend of comfortable and familiar Indian fare with newer items not seen locally. Foodies should be beating down their door.
4610 Maple Ave
Sun. – Thurs., 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.; 5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. Fri. – Sat., 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.