by Molly Reitter
Dining Out

CORNELIUS – Ashok Kumar is the epitome of a gentleman. He is immaculately dressed in shirtsleeves, a tie and pressed pants. His accent is gentle and lilting. His manner is most accommodating.

The restaurant is tidy and cozy, it can seat up to 45 people, and it almost feels as if you are a guest in his home. The menu is six pages long and filled with lamb, seafood, chicken and vegetarian dishes with detailed descriptions for the uninitiated. Every dish can be ordered in mild, medium, hot or Indian Hot.

“We’ve dialed back the spice so everyone can enjoy the food,” Kumar said. “But we are happy to add more if a customer wants that.”

Kumar came to America from India in 1997. He had always worked in restaurants and eventually opened up an Indian restaurant in Roanoke, Va.

Around 2002, he sold it to his business partner and was looking to move to a new area. Cornelius did not have an Indian restaurant and was full of international people, so the family opened up the Sangam in August 2003. His son helps with the business and his daughter is in the ninth grade.

“We really like it here,” said Kumar.

The table fills up with dish after dish of succulent, colorful, exotic fare releasing a mouthwatering fragrance. Salmon colored chicken tikka masala, goldenrod colored curry and hot pink -colored Tandoori chicken fight for attention on the table.

But when the naan, Indian bread, is placed on the table, all the attention is sucked away. It is puffy and crispy, shimmering with butter and garlic. There are 10 types of bread on the menu. One bite of the garlic and butter naan and it is easy to see why it is a staple of an Indian meal.

The bread and many other meat dishes are cooked in a Tandoori oven, a large stainless steel box on the side of the kitchen. A round top is lifted to reveal a cylinder, which glows at the bottom with hot coals.

The naan is placed on the side of the oven and simply adheres to the super-heated surface thereby heating evenly on both sides before being removed by iron tongs. The meat is placed on skewers or clay pots to cook. The oven can reach temperatures of 480 degrees Celsius and uses convection cooking to smoke the meat very quickly, thereby sealing in the juices. The ovens trap the heat, keeping it hot for hours with very little fuel, which is a huge bonus in places where heating materials are scarce.

Ramesh Subramanian lives in Ballantyne, but often makes the trek north for what he considers the best Indian food in the area.

“I’ve had (Indian food) all over,” Subramanian said. “But this is by far the most authentic and best quality.”

He even took his boss to the restaurant for a two-hour lunch specially prepared for them.

“The owner always takes care of us,”  Subramanian saif.

The menu can be tailored for those wanting an even more authentic Indian food experience. For example, goat is popular meat in India, but is not listed on the menu. The customer just has to ask and it will appear prepared in any sauce or style.

The best way for a novice to wade through the menu might be to try the buffet. It runs from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. on weekdays and noon-3 p.m. on weekends. It is filled with all sorts of menu favorites, giving the customer a nice taste of India.

As he speaks, Kumar straightens a sign on the buffet and stands with perfect posture, ready to serve.

“I just love to see the people enjoying the food,” he said. “It makes me so happy when the customer is happy.”

Sangam Indian Cuisine

20910 Torrence Chapel Road,