Cinnamon Indian Cuisine, Rhinebeck, NY: Indian Food in Dutchess County (Restaurant Review)
The spice is right: Unusual regional cuisine adds a dash of excitement to the menu at Rhinebeck’s Indian eatery
One of Cinnamon’s standout dishes: bagari jinga (shrimp flavored with garlic, mustard seeds, and curry leaves)
Photographs by Teresa Horgan
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I’ve eaten a lot of Indian food in my life, first the Anglicized type when I was growing up in Britain (where “curry” in its various iterations recently surpassed fish and chips as the national favorite); and then the American version in Manhattan, where my husband and I lived conveniently near Sixth Street’s Curry Row. We moved to the Valley before some of the city’s Indian restaurants began showcasing the more sophisticated aspects of their cuisine, so, as fans of the cooking, we were excited to hear that Cinnamon, the spot that opened on the outskirts of Rhinebeck last June, was introducing lesser-known regional dishes along with the usual roster.
Walking in on a quiet weeknight, we were greeted by spicy aromas, the soft strains of Indian music, and a smiling hostess. Peacock feathers in a tall vase are the splashiest touch in the dining room, where the walls are subdued spice colors (one of them cinnamon), the carpet a chili red, and the tablecloths buttery yellow. The overall effect is pleasingly restrained, and suggests that the emphasis is on fine dining rather than curry-in-a-hurry.
Owner Shiwanti Widyarathna and co-chef Sanjeewa Hearath
Chef Chaminda Widyarathna and his wife, Shiwanti, who serves as hostess and unraveler of the mysteries of the menu, are originally from Sri Lanka, and wanted to offer something out of the ordinary at Cinnamon. Chaminda traveled all over India studying regional cuisines, and the menu reflects that, mixing milder fare, lesser-known dishes, and the spicier preparations of southern India and Sri Lanka, where seafood plays a big part. We decided to try one familiar thing as a point of comparison, and otherwise sample dishes new to us.
We chose Kingfisher beers from the list of Indian ales (there are wines, too, and a full bar coming soon), and nibbled pappadams while we read the menu. Fresh Indian breads are part of the pleasure; we ordered a garlicky nan, brightened with flecks of cilantro, and a whole-wheat poori with an interesting chewy texture to accompany our appetizers.
The chef introduces more “exotic” dishes on his monthly specials menu. We chose one of the month’s appetizers: spinach and homemade-cheese dumplings called sham savera. Their appearance was the first surprise — they looked like plump pieces of sushi roll arranged in a little orange lake. The usual way to make the dumplings (I discovered later) is to wrap cooked, finely chopped, seasoned spinach around balls of grated paneer cheese and drop them into hot oil for a few seconds. Chaminda makes his in a sausage shape, and cuts it into chunks after the hot-oil dunking. Presentation is clearly not an afterthought for this chef. The orange lake was a tangy, tomato-honey sauce, and the “dumplings” were such a fragrant, velvety delight, I didn’t want to share.
Our other appetizer, calamari — a rarity on Indian menus — with bell peppers, garlic, and onions, got a nod of approval from Shiwanti, who was helping us navigate the offerings. Small, tender rings of squid, dipped in a light batter of breadcrumbs, wheat flour and egg whites, were crispy golden brown and came with a complex sauce that my husband declared “civilized heat,” rather than the straight-ahead chili taste of Fra Diavolo.