Flavors of India: Millard restaurant Kinaara showcases the diversity of Indian cuisineOct 29, 2020 03:46PM ● By Niz Proskocil
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
The coronavirus pandemic has kept many of us from traveling abroad, but we can still take our taste buds on a trip around the world. Takeout meals from Omaha’s array of ethnic restaurants—ranging from Korean, Greek, and Latin American to Middle Eastern, Thai, and West African—have become a favorite part of my weekly routine.
Indian, one of my favorite international cuisines, is the focus at Kinaara. The local, family-owned business, which opened in February at 138th and P streets, showcases the diversity and deliciousness of Indian cooking with a menu of popular dishes from across the subcontinent, family recipes, and regional specialties infused with spices.
There’s a variety of tasty vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free starters and entrees, plus a handful of items you may have never seen at other local Indian restaurants. Intense flavors, intricate techniques, and a talented chef make Kinaara one of the city’s best spots for Indian food, which is perfect for sharing and as suitable for takeout as it is for eating in.
Ashish Sathyan and Kimberly Harris are the husband-and-wife duo behind Kinaara. Kimberly is from Omaha, and Ashish grew up in the southern Indian state of Kerala. His 15-plus years of culinary experience includes restaurants in Dubai, New Jersey, and Omaha, where he was the chef at the former Indian Bowl in the Blackstone district.
Soon after getting married in January, the couple became first-time restaurateurs and opened Kinaara. When the pandemic hit, the eatery closed its dining room and switched to curbside service, which it continues to offer.
My partner and I have picked up takeout from Kinaara a handful of times since spring, but until recently we mostly stuck to our standbys—vegetable korma (mixed veggies cooked in a cashew-onion sauce), dal makhani (creamy spiced lentils and beans), and saag paneer (spinach with fresh Indian cheese). The restaurant serves terrific versions of those Indian classics, but there’s also numerous options for diners craving something different.
On a mid-August visit, it was two new-to-me dishes from the chef’s home state of Kerala that stood out: fish pollichathu and shrimp moilee. Kerala’s location on India’s southwest coast means seafood is abundant, and so are coconuts. Both are used frequently in the region’s cuisine. Ingredients like curry leaves and black pepper also are prevalent, Ashish said.
He sticks closely to a family recipe for the shrimp moilee. Plump shrimp are simmered in a delicate coconut milk-based sauce along with curry leaves, ginger, tomatoes, turmeric, and other spices. The dish is deeply flavorful, fragrant, and satisfying along with spoonfuls of the accompanying basmati rice.
The fish pollichathu is another traditional Kerala specialty that highlights the region’s distinctive flavors and aromatic spices. Kinaara’s version substitutes salmon filet for the usual whole fish because it’s boneless and easier to eat. The salmon is coated in a savory, paste-like marinade with a good balance of sourness and heat, wrapped in a banana leaf, and cooked until moist, tender, and flaky.
Fans of cauliflower may want to go directly to the lasuni gobi. A popular snack in India, cauliflower florets are battered, fried, and then tossed in a slightly spicy, sweet, and tangy sauce.
Butter chicken, from northern India, is another standout dish. It features tender, bite-size pieces of oven-roasted chicken in a deep orange-red sauce that’s rich, creamy, and hard to stop eating. Diners choose the spice level for each dish: mild, medium, hot, or extra hot. For me, medium spiciness here tends to pack the right amount of heat.
Entrees are accompanied by generous portions of fluffy basmati rice, but a side of warm Indian flatbread—whether it’s buttered naan, whole wheat roti, or flaky paratha—is also ideal for sopping up every last drop of sauce.
The idea behind the menu was to serve well-known entrees such as chicken tikka masala, alongside more unusual items. “It’s the familiar dishes that help bring people in,” said Kimberly, adding that “when they come back again, they’ll be more adventurous.”
In addition to its regular menu, Kinaara offers “Taste of Kerala” weekend specials and hosts monthly pop-up brunches in the parking lot. The restaurant donates a portion of proceeds from the sale of certain menu items to local nonprofit groups such as Bluebarn Theatre and Black and Pink. Kimberly and Ashish said it’s important for them to give back and help others in the community.
Opening and maintaining a business during a pandemic has been challenging, but the couple said they’re grateful for the support from family, friends, and customers. Despite the long hours and stressful days, owning a restaurant is a dream fulfilled. “I never hate my job,” Ashish said. “I love cooking. This is my passion.”
Visit kinaaraomaha.com for more information.
This article was printed in the November/December 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.