Lino Pereira, center, serves lunch to Kristen and Jeff McAndrew on Thursday, June 2, 2016, at Little Goan Indian Cafe in Novato, Calif. (Robert Tong/Marin Independent Journal)
The welcoming atmosphere at Little Goan Indian Café was palpable as we stepped into the restaurant. Sharon Pereire, who owns and cooks at the restaurant with her husband, Lino, greeted and seated us with the warmth of the Goan sun. White tablecloths and cloth napkins, pretty plate presentations and a light and airy atmosphere set the stage for a delightful meal at this new addition to Novato’s dining scene.
The owners of Arti Café in Lagunitas are partners in Little Goan, as well as friends of the Pereires. The four-month old venture adheres to some of the same principles as Arti’s, including house-made chutneys, pickles, breads and desserts and organic ingredients.
The first dish to arrive was a generous salad that is part of the lunch deal. A pile of shredded cabbage, carrots and lettuce lightly dressed with mild vinaigrette was just the ticket to clean our palates for the barrage of spicy creamy concoctions ahead. The lunch special comes with chewy and fantastic butter naan (that was devoured in an instant once it hit the table), as well as an entrée and dessert of the day for a set price. We got an additional order of pesto naan ($3.99) that was scrumptious with a surface blistered from the tandoor oven and a generous smear of basil-infused pesto.
The entrée with the lunch special, vegetable vindaloo ($11.99), was delivered in a silver-handled pot full of tender carrots, broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes and cauliflower topped with fresh cilantro in a fiery sauce. A drizzle of cooling house-made raita with yogurt, mint and cucumbers soothed the flames.
Perfect basmati rice sprinkled with peas and carrots accompanied all the dishes; each grain was visible and not starchy, one of the beauties of well-prepared basmati. It became the ultimate base for a main course of chicken caldine ($12.99), which was bathed in a creamy coconut milk sauce punctuated by onions and vegetables. The velvety dish with organic chicken was good to the last drop, which we swiped up with a last crust of naan. The flavors were punched up with house-made mango chutney — sticky, sweet and sour all at once.
The chutney also embellished lamb xacutti ($12.99), a curry composed of roasted coconut meat and tender chunks of lamb in a rich brown gravy. Goan cooking uses coconut in many forms, including water, milk and meat, and the menu and website detail some of the benefits of this tropical fruit.
An order of poorie ($3.99) looked like a deflated, deep-fried basketball. My tablemates tore pieces of it off to sop up the remaining sauce in each dish, an unnecessary but pleasurable addition to the meal.
The kitchen brews a spicy and comforting chai tea ($2), hot and warming on this cool afternoon. Glasses of creamy orange mango lassi ($3.45) were refreshing accompaniments to the heavily spiced, saucy dishes. Bonterra organic wines and a sizable selection of beers — both Indian and domestic — are on offer for those wanting some alcohol to pair with their meals.
The lunch special comes with dessert of the day, which was kheer, a creamy rice pudding shot through with cardamom. The rice grains were shorter and starchier than the basmati side dish, making them perfect for this soothing dessert.
Service was warm, charming and efficient. Pereire herself was our waitress and was happy to share information about recipes and ingredients in each dish. She said the restaurant intends to add dhosa, the giant filled rice flour and lentil crepes (and a Goan specialty), to the menu very soon.
Little Goan Indian Café offers the traditional dishes of Goa as well as classic Indian curries and homemade breads. This yet-to-be-discovered spot is still evolving, but the attention to detail, housemade items and warm atmosphere guarantee it will be popular in no time.
Brooke Jackson is a freelance food writer, blogger and recipe consultant. Send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org