From the ashes of the former India Hyde Park restaurant comes Shaan Indian Cuisine, located in Hyde Park Plaza, a few doors down from the McDonald's and Blockbuster.
A combination of hard times and sparse advertising had doomed India Hyde Park, an Indian restaurant we'd deemed our favorite. One of the benefits of the place was the fact that it had served great Indian food and was rarely filled with people, unlike the wildly popular Baba India a couple miles away. Alas, empty seats can only be sustained for so long.
Shaan Indian Cuisine's owners are friends of the people who'd run India Hyde Park, so we hope they succeed where their predecessors had failed. Hyde Park Plaza business owners suffer greatly due to the fact that local ordinances prohibit prominent signs along the street. This makes it difficult for passers-by to easily identify what stores and restaurants make up the Plaza. The lack of signage forces Hyde Park Plaza businesses to rely on word of mouth and other advertising methods, like paying someone to stand near Paxton Avenue carrying a sign and desperately waving people in.
Since India Hyde Park's closing, we had endured the crowds at Baba until discovering Dusmesh in Clifton. But now Shaan Indian Cuisine has come along to shake things up.
We entered Shaan a couple days after its grand opening. There were still balloons and decorations inside and out. A friendly gentleman welcomed us and led us to our seats.
The waitress filled our water glasses and, to our surprise, returned a few seconds later with three types of chutney and complimentary papadum, which are crispy lentil wafers that look like flat tortilla chips.
The place itself had not changed much. It was the same color scheme as India Hyde Park except for the green napkins and menus. The menu contained much of the standard Northern Indian fare, with an introduction that spoke of the misconception many people have about Indian food being universally spicy. It made the point that the diner could eat any of the dishes without the heat factor involved.
Adopting what has become my standard order for Indian restaurant reviews, I chose the lamb Vindaloo with a spice level of five out of a six-point scale. I also ordered the "hot and spicy" Nan. My girlfriend ordered lamb Rogan Josh and the plain Nan.
Our food arrived promptly, no doubt assisted by the fact that we were the only patrons there at the time. However, several couples began to arrive as the dinner hour wore on and there were a number of take-out orders --all encouraging signs for a fledgling restaurant on its opening weekend.
My Vindaloo was not unlike that which I had usually ordered at India Hyde Park. It was a thinner, less tomatoey sauce than what I get at Dusmesh, but still pleasing in its own right. It had a well-rounded, spicy flavor that I've come to expect from Vindaloo, slathered over heaping mounds of buttery, tender Basmati rice.
Shaan's hot and spicy Nan is superior to Dusmesh's in the sense that it's chock full of peppers baked right into the bread. The portions of Nan also seemed larger at Shaan's versus other nearby Indian restaurants.
After our meal, the owner came out with a complimentary dessert of Kheer, a traditional rice pudding. The Kheer had been warmed, something I thought was unusual: until that moment, I'd only had it served cold. But it was quite tasty prepared this way. We're not sure if we were served complimentary dessert only because it was the grand opening or if Shaan intends to reguarly serve complimentary dessert just as Dusmesh does.
Shaan Indian Cuisine is a welcome addition to the short list of good Indian food in Cincinnati. It's a tasty alternative to its nearest neighbor, Baba. Avoid the crowds and give this new restaurant a try.
Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)