The Hudson Valley has its fair share of exceptional restaurants featuring locally grown ingredients and creative New American, French and Italian-inspired cooking. But for other ethnic cuisines, the experience is often disappointing, lacking authenticity or originality. Predictable menus with lowest-common-denominator choices—and spotty kitchen execution—predominate. You’ve had such dishes.
Not at Cinnamon Indian Cuisine, however, just south of Rhinebeck on Route 9.
Just over a year old, and housed in a former Indian restaurant, Cinnamon is an altogether different incarnation, serving up sophisticated and intensely flavored pan-Indian cuisine prepared by chef and co-owner Chaminda Widyarathna. The other co-owner, his wife, Shiwanti, works the front of the house, and graciously interprets the extensive menu for diners.
“Cinnamon” alludes to Sri Lanka, both the origin of the spice and of the Widyarathnas. And while the menu represents a rich tour of regional Indian preparations, including many items from the more familiar north, like tandoori (for American palates), the chef’s heart and sensibilities lie more in the south and Sri Lanka. This is reflected in an overall lighter touch for traditionally heavier dishes, and his deft use of southern Indian spices, such as mustard seed, cumin, curry leaf and multiple, vibrant chilis.
Arriving on the later side one recent Friday evening, we were warmly welcomed. The dining room, swathed in soft shades of mustard and cinnamon, was simple but elegant. Contemporary Indian music played in the background during our meal.
For the less adventurous, the menu offers plenty of standard Indian choices, like chicken tikka masala, but it also features less familiar southern Indian and Sri Lankan fare, such as the tomato rasam, a hot-and-sour soup with tomato, turmeric, garlic and herbs ($5.50). For the more value-oriented, Cinnamon offers a daily lunch buffet ($9.95 weekdays; $14.50 Saturday and Sunday), and a popular Sunday night “Vishesh” (“special”) buffet, where 12 main dishes, along with assorted sides, chutneys, desserts and chai tea, are offered. It’s a great way to sample the various regional styles. A heads-up: reservations are recommended for the Sunday night buffet.
After an extensive menu consultation with Shiwanti, we got down to the serious business of eating.
To start, we ordered one of Cinnamon’s signature dishes, the bagari jinga, which, when it arrived, looked like a row of shrimp dancing in a scarlet sauce—one seasoned with garlic, mustard seed and curry leaves. “Yum!” exclaimed Kathryn, who doesn’t care for shrimp. I, too, was impressed: the shrimp were succulent, and the sauce piquant, leaving our taste buds atingle.
Our expectations rose.
We love it hot and spicy. And if that is your preference, then the lamb phaal ($17.50), a chili-spiked northern Indian dish, is a savvy choice. A delectable slow burn rather than an incendiary bomb, the lamb had an unusual but toothsome ginger inflection, and was unexpectedly light (for lamb!). The perfect sop for the amazing brown sauce? The chili naan, an Indian bread seasoned with green chilis, onion, cilantro and black pepper.PRICE?
We also ordered the vegetarian aloo gobi palak ($13.95), a traditional Punjab dish with potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach and spices in an organic yogurt gravy. Cinnamon’s version was creamy and comforting, showcasing obviously fresh vegetables (Widyarathna does use local produce when possible, especially in summer) that retained a slight crunch instead of being cooked to mush.
Happily, brown basmati rice is available (for $2 extra) in lieu of the standard, nutrient-free white basmati.
To temper the heat, I opted for the traditional Indian antidote, Kingfisher lager ($6), to accompany the meal, which worked well with everything. Additional Indian beers, a short but well-chosen wine list and a full bar are also available.
For the finale, something sweet—after all the spice—was in order. And, at Cinnamon, all the desserts are updated classics, made in-house.
Beautifully presented, the pistachio kulfi (Indian sorbet; $3.50) and the garam halwa ($4.95), a delicious carrot pudding—yes, you read correctly— were the perfect cooling foils following our intense spice rave.
Over the years, Kathryn and I have sampled Indian food throughout New York City and elsewhere, both upscale and down, excellent and mediocre. More often than not, however, we found Indian food too heavy for our taste, thanks to loads of cream and salt. But at Cinnamon, we rediscovered the excitement of compelling Indian cuisine, at reasonable prices, courtesy of the Widyarathnas.
We’ll be back for more.
Cinnamon Indian Cuisine
5856 Route 9
Lunch: Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-2:30pm; Sat.-Sun. 11:30am-3pm
Dinner: Mon.-Thurs. 5-9pm; Fri.-Sun. 5-10pm