Over the weekend I had a meal from the tired Indian buffet at Bay Leaves restaurant on Lawrenceville Highway in Decatur. It was…depressing. I chewed on my rubbery tandoori chicken wings, pulled limp cucumbers from the salad and ate what I needed to fill my stomach. Some rice, chickpeas, chicken tikka masala, pappadums and chutney…enough.
There’s something about sad Indian food that is the saddest food of all. It is the food equivalent of a bad recording of an old Leadbelly ballad played on a scratchy 1970’s school phonograph for a roomful of children who aren’t listening. It sings a fiery song that has been tamed through apathy and neglect.
And so I needed good Indian food to take the flavor out of my mind. The other day I was picking up my car from the shop in Decatur’s Indian restaurant row when I drove by Kusum Foods and remembered enjoying it soon after it opened in October. I ordered a quick meal to go and was really happy with the Styrofoam smorgasbord that I unwrapped at home. The restaurant serves a daily-changing roster of vegetarian Gujarati food that stands apart from the mostly South Indian fare in Decatur. A mere $4.99 bought two curries, rice, tangy dal (lentil soup) and three of the nicest imaginable roti flatbreads — tender, flaky, brushed with sweet butter.
I really loved both curries. The blackeyed pea version (above) had a spicy gravy shot through with nigella — a black seed that has the musky flavor of cumin. The yogurt curry (right) was served warm and held tender dumplings made from gram (chickpea) flour. It was like a subcontinental matzoh ball soup.
True, this is one of those vegetarian Indian meals that consists of starch, starch and — look! more starch! But it was absolutely satisfying and so different from the South Indian or Indo-Pak menus around town.
I’m not sure this modest spot — with its laminated plastic booths and baby blue walls the color of a disreputable daycare center — would be worth a crosstown drive. But if you’re in the area and can deal with an all-veg menu, I’d definitely check it out. It sure got me over my tandoori wing blues.
Kusum Foods: 2899 C North Decatur Road (but facing DeKalb Industrial Boulevard, in the Kroger-anchored strip shopping center), 404-296-3338. Closed Mondays.