A pleasant oasis, with spice
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
When Pami’s Restaurant first opened its doors out in the no man’s land of west Mount Vernon, I didn’t take much notice.
Then one day at the Mount Vernon Farmers Market, a friend of ours walked by with a takeout container of something that smelled wonderful. It was saag channa from a stall run by the Pami’s crew, and our friend was raving about it. My husband and I immediately went and bought one and ate it on the boardwalk by the river. Shortly thereafter, we got takeout from Pami’s to eat on the patio at North Sound Brewery, and realized Mount Vernon finally had the Indian restaurant we’ve been waiting for.
On a recent visit, we took a friend to lunch at Pami’s who had never been to an Indian restaurant before. To make sure she had the full experience, we got plenty of different dishes. We had to start with a plateful of crispy pappadum ($2.99), a puffed lentil cracker served with the usual pairing of tamarind chutney and mint sauce. This is really the perfect appetizer—crunchy, savory and sweet all at once—but I can also recommend the vegetable pakora ($4.99). Deep-fried food is a highlight of Indian cuisine, and these bite-size fritters coated in chickpea batter and served with chutney are a fine introduction.
After demolishing our pappadums we shared butter chicken ($10.99), saag paneer ($9.99), mango curry with lamb ($11.99), and channa masala ($8.99), all served family style so each of us could taste every dish. Our waiter took it upon himself to recommend the garlic naan ($2.99), leavened flatbread sprinkled with garlic and spices. We normally prefer plain naan, but really enjoyed this. We tried the chai ($2.49) and the mango lassi ($3.99), and both were very good. I appreciate that they also offer wine and beer, including two Indian lagers, Kingfisher and Taj Mahal, which are excellent at damping the fire from a hot curry.
I particularly love Pami’s version of saag, a dish of spinach cooked with spices and pureed. It’s creamy and rich and wonderful scooped up with naan. I like it best with paneer (a firm Indian cheese used much like tofu) or channa (chickpeas), but you can order it with chicken, lamb or prawns instead. Since most of the other curries are tomato based, saag makes a great contrast.
The mango curry was a surprise hit for us. We like to order it very spicy and love the sweet and fiery mix of mango and chili heat. Butter chicken, on the other hand, we prefer ordering fairly mild so we can appreciate the smooth richness of the sauce. The chicken is cooked tandoori-style, its red color very attractive in the bright orange curry.
The main dish I haven’t loved here was the vindaloo, a type of curry we often make at home whose heat is enhanced with vinegar to produce a truly searing experience. Unfortunately, most of the extra spice in Pami’s version seemed to come from cayenne added late in the preparation (this seems to be how they accommodate “extra hot” orders), so the flavor wasn’t as rounded as I would have liked. The flavor of their curries seems to be best at medium to hot.
Service at Pami’s is very welcoming and attentive, the only problem I’ve had being a recent visit where we were brought our bill without anyone asking us if we were actually done (and they tried to take away my dessert before I was finished with it). But on every other visit the service has been perfectly polite and patient. The restaurant offers an Indian buffet on the second Saturday of the month for $9.99, although you can still order off the menu on those days.
Traffic on Memorial Highway (one of the main detour routes around the collapsed Skagit River Bridge) may not be at its best at the moment, but Pami’s provides a pleasant oasis for locals as well as those traveling through Mount Vernon.
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