Kohinoor Indian Restaurant (http://www.kohinoorindianrestaurant.com/) in Altamonte Springs is the first Indian restaurant I ever tried in Orlando, back when I had only ever had Indian food a few times in my life. I was newly dating my wife, and I met one of her good friends for lunch there to ask her advice for some gifts to buy her — I forget if it was for our first Christmas or first Valentine’s Day together. The food was really good, but for whatever reason, I never made it back there. Not until recently, when after almost 13 years of marriage, I embarked on a quest to get my wife into Indian food.
You see, my wife loved the “butter chicken tikka masala” at Cafe Tu Tu Tango, where we celebrated her birthday earlier this year. After that, it became my mission to introduce her to more delicious Indian food, and to discern the difference between butter chicken and chicken tikka masala, two similar dishes that share a lot of ingredients, but are ultimately different.
This is Kohinoor’s version of butter chicken, also known as chicken makhani ($18), boneless cubes of chicken tikka cooked in a “tomato-based creamy sauce.” She loved it! I tried it and liked it too, but I was thrilled that I was finally getting her on board with Indian food. That creamy, rich, almost velvety sauce is a perfect gateway dish for anyone a little skeptical or squeamish about trying Indian food. (See also: a lot of people’s parents.)
Rather than be redundant and also order chicken tikka masala, we switched it up and ordered the bot kabab (lamb) masala ($19), so we could both compare and contrast the butter/makhani and masala sauces. The menu described this one as “cubes of lamb cooked in a creamy butter sauce with onions, spices, and bell peppers.” Yes, I get that they look the same, for all intents and purposes. I know the ingredients are similar too, but I wanted her to sample both dishes, to see if one stood out as her favorite. She liked the butter chicken better, so I was more than happy to eat the majority of this lamb masala.
This was another dish my wife chose: saag paneer ($14): “freshly chopped spinach and homemade cheese cooked in a mild sauce.” She said she had tried this dish once or twice a long time ago, before I was in the picture, and liked it back then. I was so proud of her for branching out and giving Indian food another chance with me. It was also delicious, as if you couldn’t already guess.
Back home, dishin’ it out! I always appreciate restaurants that serve takeout food in plastic trays with removable lids that are microwave-safe, dishwasher-safe, and recyclable. As you can probably guess, I keep a bunch of them, but the crown jewels of my takeout container collection are two round, segmented plates with lids, molded with perfect little compartments that I think came from a long-gone restaurant called Stonewood. They were ideal for portioning out our huge lunch, especially so my wife could try everything without different dishes touching each other. The butter chicken, bot kabab masala, and saag paneer all came with basmati rice, so I served up sample portions of all three over rice for her. But wait — where did that samosa come from?
I couldn’t resist the allure of the Kohinoor Special Appetizer platter ($14), which includes two potato-filled samosas (the large, triangular pastries with their crispy, flaky crusts), vegetable fritters called pakoras, aloo (potato) pakoras, chicken pakoras, chicken tikka (the orangey-red meat on the right, coated in a blend of yogurt and spices), and seekh kabaab (the most delicious sausages, on top). It is safe to say I liked all of these more than she did, but you have to try new things! That’s what keeps life — and marriage — interesting.
I always order soft naan bread ($3.50) at any Indian restaurants, to sop up all those incredible sauces. This is typical Indian flatbread made from refined flour and baked in a tandoor, a clay oven. I’m sure most of my readers know exactly what it is, so I apologize for naansplaining.
I decided to try the roti ($3.50) as well, which the menu described as whole wheat bread baked in a clay oven. Now I am used to the Malaysian-style roti from Hawkers Asian Street Fare (which is called a paratha elsewhere), as well as the two kinds of huge, fluffy roti from West Indian restaurants Singh’s Roti Shop and Vindi’s Roti Shop: the dhal puri and “buss-up shot.” This roti wasn’t much like either of them — it was more like an oily, lightly fried version of the naan.
We got one little ramekin of sweet, tangy tamarind chutney and another ramekin of spicy tomato and onion chutney. Once again, my wife impressed me by trying and liking the tamarind chutney, and she usually isn’t into condiments and sauces at all. I was so proud of her for trying new things, and overjoyed that she liked almost everything. But she’s not a fan of tomatoes or onions, so she wisely avoided the other chutney.
So Kohinoor was a hit! I am thrilled that the person I love the most in the world has come around on a cuisine that I’m still relatively inexperienced with myself. Lately I’ve been obsessed with Indian food, trying new dishes and ranking different restaurants’ versions of my tried-and-true favorites. This isn’t our only recent Indian meal, so I promise more reviews to come over the next few weeks and months.