More than any other ethnic cuisine, Indian food transports me to a faraway place and time with its intoxicating blend of spices, textures, and sauces. My husband and youngest daughter don't like Indian food much, but one night when they were both gone I took our other two children out to Suraj Restaurant in Redwood City. Suraj was recommended to me by good friend and neighbor Kiki Kapany, whose parents originally lived in India before making their way to the U.S. and raising their family in Woodside. For her, Suraj is the go-to place when she wants some Indian comfort food. That says a lot. Her dad Narinder Kapany is widely known as the father of fiber optics, and he too enjoys Suraj.
On the outside the restaurant doesn't look like much, and its location on busy El Camino Real across from Target is a far cry from a more hip or sophisticated area. But the food tells the story, and we were not disappointed. We started out with vegetable samosas, a good standard Indian appetizer to whet the appetite and tantalize the taste buds. Then the main courses arrived all at once like presents on Christmas morning, and we enthusiastically dove in. The aloo gobi vegetarian dish, with its tender cauliflower and potatoes melded with a hypnotic spicy sauce, elevates ordinary vegetables to a state of sublime. Cauliflower never tasted so good. My thirteen-year-old daughter Valerie said that was her favorite dish, along with the fragrant garlic naan, a chewy accompaniment to our meal, perfect for sopping up all the sauce left on our plates (bad breath be damned).
My favorite Indian dish has always been the mutter paneer, peas and soft homemade cheese cubes swimming in a heavenly, silky sauce. Not only does it light fireworks in my mouth, it also tingles going down, leaving a warm glow in my stomach and tears in my eyes. It wouldn't be hard to Google the ingredients, but somehow I like leaving its secret blend a mystery so I can experience it in an instinctual right-brain way instead of analyzing it with left-brain precision. We also enjoyed the curry chicken, with its mild sauce and oh-so tender, fall-apart pieces of meat. The kids ordered sweet and cooling mango lassi drinks, a nice way to offset the hot spices of the food but too sweet for my taste (and I do have serious a sweet tooth).
Eating this meal made it hard not to moan with pleasure at every bite, and I know I would have if we'd been eating privately at home. It's worth trying if you're a fan of Indian food, or even if you consider yourself a novice. Try something new and bring some companions to share the experience. Eat sparingly during that day before your meal so that you can savor and enjoy the flavors as much as possible. For me this brings out the brilliant combination of flavors, creating a more memorable and satisfying meal. The day-long anticipation heightens the satisfaction experienced when eating it (this has been proven through fMRI research done by a professor at the Stanford Business School!).
The restaurant's website lists the menu and addresses of its two locations in Redwood City and Milpitas. But you'll have to go inside to read the back of the menu to discover the various benefits of different spices used there. Did you know coriander not only boasts fantastic flavor but also can be used as an aphrodisiac? Maybe those hidden qualities, along with the evident talent of the cooks, infuse the secret sauce that makes eating at Suraj so memorably mouthwatering.