‘Real deal’ Indian food

Chef Shivi Datta whips up authentic South Asian cuisine at the Barn Bowl & Bistro.

Wednesdays just got spicier. 

Indian Night is back by popular demand at the Barn Bowl & Bistro. The weekly special is the brainchild of manager Mike Sawyer and Chef Shivi Datta, offering diners fresh, authentic Indian food with a creative spin each week. 

No two Indian Nights are the same, but there are some staples. Papadum, for example, and Datta’s Chicken Curry are always on the menu — both of which I tried on a recent Wednesday.

Papadum ($8) is a thin, crispy, round flatbread — an authentic Indian starter. It’s “like a big chip,” Datta said, and is often made from lentils. Datta serves it with a side of onion chutney, complementing the simple, light, and airy crisps with a savory, tomato-based sauce. 

Next on our table, but not always on the menu, was Machi Ki Tikki ($15), a variation on a classic fish cake Indian dish. Three lightly breaded patties were stacked on a plate, served over red cabbage slaw with an artful swipe of mint sauce. The patties, made of cod, were poached in butter and blended with curry powder. Each bite was soft, the inside slightly yellow in color — a nod to the spices — and packed the perfect amount of background heat. Datta later told me this might be her favorite dish on the Indian Night rotation — I agreed. 

Next, we tried the Black Lentil Soup ($7), mixed with kidney beans, garam masala, coconut milk, and coconut water. Datta told me she was cracking fresh coconut in the kitchen that morning, and explained that a lot of prep work happens ahead of Indian Night. Datta conceptualizes the menu herself, comes up with the presentation, and translates her vision to five or six other line cooks who assist her in the kitchen. Datta likes to switch up at least one appetizer and one entrée each week, and starts conceptualizing the menu well before Wednesday. She starts marinating sauces only as early as Tuesday, “but I’m rarely not thinking about [Indian Night],” Datta said. “It’s sort of always on my mind.”

Datta has worked in the kitchen at the Barn for about two years. She comes from an Indian background, and said her mother’s cooking is “the real deal.” Growing up, Datta said, she watched her mom closely in the kitchen, and at Indian Night, you’ll find the Barn’s dishes are nothing shy of “the real deal” either. When Sawyer pitched the idea to Datta last year, they agreed it was a perfect match to showcase her talents.

Datta has worked as a sous-chef and line cook in other kitchens, but on Wednesday nights, she’s running the show. “I can definitely be bossy,” she laughed. “I like things done a certain way.”

And while it wasn’t always a life goal, cooking has become Datta’s passion. Work, for Datta, doesn’t always feel like work, and the Island native dreams of one day opening her own restaurant here. And if you haven’t noticed, the Vineyard is lacking an exclusively Indian eatery. I picked her brain:

“An Indian restaurant, maybe?” I asked. 

“I’ve thought about it,” Datta said. “But I also love to bake. It’d either be an Indian restaurant, or somewhere you can get pastries, sandwiches, salads … I feel like I go back and forth every day.” 

But for now, Datta’s focused on serving her Wednesday night guests authentic, quality, and creative Indian food.

“I like putting my own twist on things,” she said. “One week, I made butter chicken mac and cheese.”

The Steak Skewers ($25) came out next, which were grilled and served with basmati rice and fried cauliflower. I can’t directly speak to the steak (I’m a vegetarian), but my boyfriend attested to perfectly cooked, tender pieces of meat that were just a tad bit spicy. I can speak to the rice and fried cauliflower — both delicious. The rice was seasoned with cumin and bay leaves, and the cauliflower was marinated in garam masala and turmeric — the perfect amount of spice. 

The most popular dish on the Indian Night menu graced our table next — Shivi’s Chicken Curry ($22). You can order this vegetarian, too. The chicken breast is marinated in a creamy tomato curry sauce, served over cumin basmati rice and garnished with cilantro. The curry is so good. I swear Datta has this spice thing down to a science. 

We were stuffed, but other items on the menu include a side of Garlic Naan ($4) or Mango Lassi ($7; you can add rum for $3). We nearly ate our way through Indian Night’s entirety, each dish more flavorful than the next, attesting to the chef’s mastery. 

If you love spicy food, you will love this menu. And even if you don’t love spicy food, there’s something for you to try. Indian Night is on for the winter, and it’s a cumin-coriander-cayenne-paprika party you don’t want to miss. 

 

Indian Night continues every Wednesday. For more information, visit thebarnmv.com, or call 508-696-9800.

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