If you remember the old days of Madhuban Indian Cuisine in Boise, you might want to add some Spice to your life.
The Jain family operated Madhuban in Boise for 10 years before selling the State Street restaurant in 2005. They moved back to northern India, but the allure of comforting people with curries, charred tandoori dishes and other Punjabi specialties was never far from their minds.
The Jains recently returned to Idaho and the restaurant business — this time in a Meridian strip mall, where they opened Spice Indian Cuisine last July in the former Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant spot near Buffalo Wild Wings.
Familiar faces from the Jains’ past soon appeared — customers who missed the amiable service and homespun Indian fare. Spice truly is a family-run business. Mom and Dad (Madhu and Sudesh Jain) do all the cooking, while their adult-age kids serve guests.
The decor is American strip mall with a few colorful Hindu pictures on the walls and a mural of the Taj Mahal to let diners know they are in an Indian restaurant. The menu bounces around the map of India, mostly making stops in the central and northern parts of the country. The Jains mix their own dry masalas, which get turned into curry pastes and other spice mixtures that give the food its nuance. No two Indian restaurants are exactly the same in this regard, because everyone has a distinct twist on the regional spice profiles.
There aren’t many things better on a cold winter’s eve than deep-fried Indian treats and a cup of steaming Masala-style chai tea ($1.99).
Fragrant veggie pakoras ($2.99) are a delight, thanks to the crispy, spiced chickpea batter that clings tightly to the orange-hued clusters (pocked with chopped potato, onion, celery and fenugreek and cilantro leaves), which come with ramekins of verdant chutney and tangy tamarind sauce for dipping.
Paneer pakoras ($3.99) get the similar battered and fried treatment, only these crunchy nuggets are made with fresh cow’s milk cheese (with the consistency of extra-firm tofu) instead of assorted veggies.
Diners would also be remiss not to order the puffed-up samosas ($3.99), a duo of deep-fried, doughy purses filled with a seasoned mixture of smashed potatoes and green peas.
For those who desire fiery food, you’re in luck here. The restaurant has its own spice scale for the main course dishes. It goes like this: Boise Hot (for wimps), New York Hot (around medium) and Bombay Hot (so damn spicy it scared the Brits away).
Vegetarians should try the baigan bhartha ($10.99), a stainless steel vessel brimming with saucy eggplant that’s roasted with onion, cumin, tomato, pepper, peas and lots of garlic. The curry-like stew (ordered New York Hot) comes with steamed basmati rice flecked with saffron threads and other spices.
Diners can also go meatless with northern Indian-style dal makhani ($10.99). Soak up these fragrant, super-creamy black lentils with a side of tandoori-baked kulcha bread ($3.25) loaded with chunky pieces of onion and herbs.
The restaurant serves Mughal specialties with carnivores in mind. One night, I requested the Mughlai Madrasi ($15.99) Bombay Hot on the spice scale. It certainly cleared my stuffy nose and made me sweat. Plump shrimp, chicken and pieces of lamb (a little on the tough side) were cloaked in a peppery tomato-based sauce with a lingering essence of coconut and cloves.
Order a side of raita ($2.99; creamy yogurt with cucumber, cilantro and shredded carrot) to help extinguish the fire. A 12-ounce bottle of skunky-tasting Kingfisher lager ($3.99) also does the trick.
Diners also can get a gamut of tandoori items served on cast-iron sizzlers (think fajitas). Ordering the red-hued tandoori chicken ($7.99/half) will get you a hacked-up bird that’s marinated and treated to a scorching clay oven. This cooking technique makes for tender chicken with deep paprika and turmeric flavors.
The seekh kabab ($13.99) is another good tandoori pick. Marinated ground lamb gets tightly compressed and formed onto skewers before hitting the oven. The roasted lamb, with its pronounced garlic and hot pepper notes, is then removed from the skewers and served with slices of sweet bell pepper, onion and tomato.
Make sure to fold the delicious tandoori meats inside floppy rounds of charred garlic naan bread ($3.99) and add a dollop of raita yogurt to bring the flavors full circle.
It’s obvious that the Jains are passionate about cooking Indian food and serving it with a smile, all of which keeps diners coming back for more.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spice Indian Cuisine
Address: 3223 E. Louise Drive, Meridian
Phone: (208) 893-9144
Hours: Lunch buffet: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Saturday; Dinner: 5 to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Menu price range: appetizers, soups and salads $2.99-$7.99; entrées $9.99-$15.99.
Libation situation: bottled domestic and Indian beers (Taj Mahal, Flying Horse and Kingfisher) and red and white wines by the glass.
Kid friendly? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: July 2016