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Delicate Balance

Christopher Myers


Address:802 N. Charles St.
Baltimore, MD 

More on Indigma.

By Richard Gorelick | Posted 11/14/2007

Indigma is under the same ownership as Saffron, which itself had two distinct iterations. The first, which opened in the fall of 2003, delivered progressive Indian-accented fusion; the second, which debuted in the spring of 2006, provided a way station of sorts for the talented Edward Kim, who packed the menu with American adventure. Kim split this summer, and as its name suggests, Indigma has re-devoted the serenely beautiful space to Indian cuisine.

If Indigma is the most accessible effort yet in this space, it's not a tikka masala house. The nuts and dates of East Indian cuisine are sprinkled throughout the menu, and the basis of an entrÈe is as likely to be grouper or Cornish hen as lamb or chicken. The menu is trim, about 15 entrèes and eight appetizers, pointlessly referred to here as "small plates." (More than pointless, it's confusing: Indigma also offers a separate pre-theater tapas menu.) The menu promises a sophisticated kind of pleasure, a measure of complexity, and it delivers on it. But the effects can be vaporous, and a diner's attention can wander.

Here's when it worked: an open-face samosa ($5), the traditional street-cart pastry inverted, with its untraditional filling--coriander pods, flash-fried spinach, burnt garlic, and mango chutney--shimmering on top; a riveting cream of cauliflower soup ($5), fixed up with dried ginger and crispy fried shallots, chicken stock giving it substance; a brilliantly executed lamb entrèe, the lamb sina kabob ($20), an herbed and grilled cylinder of rosy lamb, placed in a nicely balanced mint-tomato sauce. With these examples, there was the impression of only the essential ingredients having been introduced. Indigma presents them beautifully, too, in the rectangular white bowls and plates that throw colors into high relief.

Sometimes at Indigma, though, less is less, leaving you wondering if something essential was forgotten. The idea of a Malabar crab appetizer ($7) is arousing: Said to combine crabmeat, spiced potato-lentil mash, jalapeño, and olive oil, it comes across monochromatically, babyish, with no perceptible pepper and not enough drama from the ingredients that are there. Something similar happened with the lamb chile chops appetizer ($8), in which the mint and chiles had either been deployed far too subtly or simply left out, leaving not particularly succulent lamb chops to fend for themselves.

In between were instances where the dish came across presumably as intended but just failed to ignite the imagination. Machi addraki ($17), a grouper fillet in a tangy tomato-ginger sauce with white pepper sauce, said everything it ever knew with the first bite and fell silent after: hunks of fish in a sauce. Indigma's pearls of the deep blue sea ($23) coated well-handled seafood--scallops, squid, oysters, squid, fully detachable mussels--and lentils and eggplant with a spicy tomato sauce that didn't necessarily overwhelm the ingredients but didn't do them any favors either.

Indigma offers a chef's tasting menu ($40/$30 vegetarian), which frustratingly turned out not to be an all-access pass into the kitchen's soul but instead merely items off the regular menu--and the types of things an unadventurous diner would order: the samosas, a saag paneer, which didn't appear to be anything other than the three-cheese paneer ($14) listed on the menu.

Most of what didn't delight was at least tantalizingly close, and a glance around the placid dining rooms descries what appear to be wholly contented diners. But for the love of bunky, please keep the half-measures in check, because they make people lose faith. Like, get a full-time bartender even if you have to pay him $15 an hour.

Open for lunch and dinner.


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