February 13, 2013

Foodie Face-Off: Mehak vs. Sangam

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Although I’m still a bit of a baby when it comes to my spicy food tolerance, I’ve always loved Indian food and take advantage of the chance to eat it whenever the rare opportunity comes up. I know that we’re fortunate enough to have two Indian restaurants in Collegetown (on the same street, no less), but with my recent dining experience at Mehak, I’m not sure how easy it will be to convince me to try the other place.

The Food

For me, something as simple as naan can be the distinguishing factor between a mediocre Indian restaurant and a great one. Mehak did not disappoint. In addition to its beautifully blistered plain naan, the restaurant offers several flavored and stuffed varieties of naan — all made in-house — that I hadn’t had the fortune to choose from in my previous encounters with Indian cuisine. The onion naan was a delicious discovery; the onions, spices and fresh coriander were incorporated evenly throughout the batter, complementing each entrée with every fragrant, chewy bite.

I’ve tasted a few interpretations on aloo gobi, and all of them have been pretty good. Mehak’s aloo gobi, however, is the best version of the dish that I’ve had to date. Whether I scooped the vegetable mixture onto some naan or with a bite of rice, each piece of potato and cauliflower was perfectly cut and cooked so that I felt like I was eating an actual dish rather than a bunch of sauce dotted with an occasional vegetable or two.

It’s easy to stick to the widely popular dishes — aloo gobi, chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken — whenever you go to an Indian restaurant. However, sometimes the best dishes are the ones that lie beyond the first two or three lines on a menu. My server thankfully recommended the karahi chicken, a curry dish with slices of onion and green pepper that I’d order again in a heartbeat. The fresh bite of the onions and peppers contrasted nicely with tenderness of the chicken, and the entire dish was well-balanced by the creaminess of the curry sauce.

The combination of Mehak’s chai and kheer provided the perfect ending to the meal. The sugary, milky chai warmed my Ithaca-winter-chilled bones while the kheer, or rice pudding, had just the right amount of sweetness, infused with notes of cinnamon and cardamom and topped with crunchy slivers of almond.

The Service

The service wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was perfect for a college student’s needs. Our server was quick to greet us at the door with a smile and seated us immediately upon entering the restaurant. We also received our food in a timely manner, but never felt as if we were being rushed out of the restaurant. Mehak is a great place for both the leisurely diner as well as the diner with limited time.

The Atmosphere

Again, the dining atmosphere will not amaze, but it was clean and warm, which is all that I look for in a casual restaurant for a winter dinner. The soft strains of classic Indian music and dim, warm lighting reminded me of the times that I spent with my friends at their homes, with the scent of spices lingering in the air.

The Value

Overall, I think that diners get their money’s worth at Mehak. Most of the dishes range between $10-20 and come with a generous serving of basmati rice. Our bill for two orders of naan, three dishes, two desserts and a cup of chai came under $60, which was cheaper than I’d expected it to be. And we still brought home plenty of leftovers that, because of its level two spiciness, thankfully didn’t set my mouth on fire the following day.

-Elizabeth Young

Even with the rise of other formidable Indian restaurants around the area, Sangam has tantalized Ithaca’s taste buds with a plethora of both familiar and unique Indian dishes since 1983. But is it truly worth the hype?

The Food

You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it’s acceptable to judge an Indian restaurant by its naan. Sangam’s garlic naan was perfect: dense yet pillowy with a slight, fresh-from-the-tandoor-oven char. The garlic flavor is very light, too, so as to not overwhelm your palate.

Sangam’s aloo gobi featured large pieces of fresh cauliflower in a blended potato curry that had subdued notes of onion, garlic and ginger. Even though I ordered a mild version, the dish still had a noticeable amount of spice to brighten it up. Overall, it sure was warming and comforting, but I wasn’t particularly wowed.

When my server mentioned that the Vegetable Mango was the best vegetarian dish on the menu, I couldn’t help but try it. The inventive combination of chunky carrots, peas, green beans and broccoli and creamy, sweet mango curry was dynamite, and there was a continual burst of garlic and garam masala with each bite.

I definitely had room for dessert.The special kheer’s texture was wonderful; it was refreshingly cool and lightly sweet, and the addition of slivered, toasted almonds on top provided a crunchy textural contrast to the plump rice grains. The flavor, though, fell flat. More cardamom would have raised this dish from pretty good to spectacular.

The Atmosphere

Sangam is lit just perfectly enough for it to be an ideal space for both a casual gathering with friends or for date night. The decorative tapestries and handicrafts, not-too-loud music, mouthwatering smell of spice and smiling faces of the staff all set a positive and comfortable vibe.

The Service

The service is exceptional. The hostess was lively and engaging, and my server was incredibly attentive and eager to recommend his favorite dishes.

The Value

Sangam is famous for its $7.95 per person lunch buffet, which is a steal for hungry students. Sangam is certainly a viable contender if you have an unshakable craving for Indian food, although it’s not the most flavorful.

-Karina Parikh

Original Author: Karina Parikh