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Chauhan Ale & Masala House

Chauhan Ale & Masala House brings Indian fare to The Gulch. (Feb 2015)

Written By:  Erin Byers Murray

Photographers:  Ron Manville

Located on a tucked-away corner of the North Gulch, Chauhan Ale & Masala House from chef Maneet Chauhan is brimming with energy: The room is dim, the music is upbeat, and there’s a flickering light show along the brick wall. This Indian eatery is the first in a new wave of expansion into the neighbhorhood.

EatWhat to Order

Burial Ground Cocktail, $11
Mussels Tikka Masala, $14
Kale Pakora Chaat, $10
Kashmiri Spiced Braised Lamb Shank, $24
Meat and Three Desi Tiffin, $20

Whether or not you plan to take in a show or a Pred's game afterward, you should start with a drink (ale, after all, is in the name of the place). There are a couple of custom-brewed spiced beers made by Cool Springs Brewery on tap; they rotate regularly with the season. We’re fans of the saffron cardamom IPA but like it even more when mixed into a drink called the Burial Ground—a play on milk punch, the creamy concoction gets a kick from fall spices and a splash of bourbon. Many of the drinks have a touch of Indian spice or are built specifically to go with the fare.

The bar snacks are fun, too. Try the black-eyed peas tikki, a sweet and peppery croquette served with cucumber raita, or a heaping plate of tandoori chicken poutine. There’s also a Nashville nod in the form of hot chicken pakora, which gives the spicy bird a light, airy crust. As evidenced by the fiery fowl reference, chef Chauhan seems to have embraced her adopted hometown. Though she’s officially based in New York, she’s been in Nashville since the her place debuted in November, thanks to the early arrival of her son. (He was born prematurely on the same day the restaurant opened its doors.) Her presence is clearly shaping the way the restaurant does business, from the menu on up to the service staff. The whole place radiates the casual, welcoming personality that Chauhan herself carries.

Across the entire menu, spice plays a prevalent role—but rarely gets a heavy hand. In dishes like the mussels tikka masala, the spice is subtle, so it doesn’t overpower the briny shellfish; heirloom beets are only enhanced by the coconut chutney they’re nestled upon. The kale pakora chaat gives the hearty green a fragrant boost—it’s fried with an ethereally light batter and sits atop a pile of spicy garbanzos that get laced with tamarind, yogurt, and mint. It’s salty, spicy, and sweet all in one bite and draws you back again and again.

There are vegan and vegetarian options, like the crunchy beet and cauliflower croquette. And for those accustomed to Americanized Indian, Chauhan offers a choose-your-own protein/sauce/rice combo, called desi fare. These familiar selections include a classic tikka masala, saag (a spinach and cream sauce), and vindaloo. For a taste of something recognizable but in a somewhat surprising package, try the desi tiffin, Chauhan’s version of the meat and three. Delivered in a traditional tiffin, or stacking tin pans, the meal reflects a version of the boxed lunches that Indian wives are said to bring their working husbands. Here, the stacking tins are filled with one of the desi fare combos of meat and sauce, basmati rice, and two other sides, like lentils and pickled squash. The whole affair comes with naan and raita, and it’s a hearty (and affordable) way to fill up. For something even sturdier, try the Kashmiri spiced lamb shank, which is braised to a lovely tenderness and sits alongside tomato rice. Fragrant and filling, it’s a perfect winter dish.

The few desserts on the list are elegant and meant to offer just a bite of sweetness without overshadowing the meal that came before it. The options change regularly, but if you come across the caramelized orange kulfi, it’s worth checking out for the sweet and slippery rosewater falooda noodles. Eating at Chauhan can be a pleasure, especially if you can settle in and get to know the chef’s very personal cooking style. It seems to combine a range of American influences with her traditional home country cuisine to produce food that’s packed with flavor but also balanced and bright. And considering the chef is a fan of good beer, just about everything goes nicely with a pint.

123 12th Ave N; 615-779-3770; chauhannashville.com

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