RM Bistro Progressive Indian Cuisine
1141 Jericho Tpke., Commack
SERVICE: Friendly but inconsistent: there’s a knowledge gap among servers.
AMBIENCE: Indian touches mask the sushi restaurant that it replaced.
ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday-Saturday 3 to 10 p.m., Sunday 3 to 9 p.m. Wheelchair accessible, plenty of parking
Inventive Indian food has flourished around the country of late: bacon is paired with naan in Manhattan, dosa batter meets a waffle iron in Oakland, masala dusts French fries in Chicago.
So, it was a matter of time before such fusions would appear on Long Island, where well-executed traditional South Asian cooking has a rich history.
RM Bistro Progressive Indian Cuisine, the Commack reincarnation of Rangmahal, the pioneering classic Indian spot that closed in 2015 after a 20-year run in Hicksville, has obliged.
Chef Arun Verma has returned, but here he plays mentor to his 25-year-old son, Apaar. The younger Verma flirted with pre-med, then followed a passion for cooking to the upstate Culinary Institute of America. After a year, he decided to leave for the San Francisco Bay area, where he trained at the critically acclaimed All Spice, absorbing the style of cooking he aspires to at RM Bistro.
But it is clear here that progress takes time.
Apaar’s menu fuses the best of his father’s fare with his own Suffolk County upbringing, ambitious and pricey twists on dishes that Long Islanders know well: bruschetta, fried calamari, avocado toast. Even classic cocktails get the Indian treatment.
Word to the wise: Any Indian restaurant, no matter how creative, should be grounded in naan skills and serve warm, fragrant basmati rice. After two visits, the “House Bread” — a naan gently stuffed with crushed coconut flakes, nuts and raisins — was the only bread on the menu that worked. The rice was consistently cold and bland.
Tucked away in a shopping mall off Jericho Turnpike, the brightly lit space has changed little since its last turn as the sushi restaurant Pacific Moon. Service suffers from a knowledge gap. One night we have the professor type, who spouts an encyclopedia of information describing dishes in great detail to show the chef’s vision. The next, the server admits her knowledge of the dishes is limited.
“What’s Sindhi chicken curry?” which is ambiguously listed as chicken breast with traditional Indian spices.
“Don’t look at that,” she says, putting her finger over the Sindhi. “It’s just chicken curry with spices.”
“What are the spices?”
“Whatever you can think of.”
The food and drinks take a similar path. Themes here include sauces that are too thick and too sweet and food that too often is lacking in spice and unforgivably cold.
On the appetizer side, crispy artichokes are fried perfectly in a lightly spiced chickpea batter and playfully arrive in a fry basket. You’re best to avoid the cloying, sweet orange marmalade accompanying it and ask for more of the spicy green chutney.
The Rangmahal shrimp, an ode to the old restaurant, suffers a similar fate. The sauteed garlic-and-spice-rubbed shrimp are plump and tender, served cocktail style on the rim of a metal martini glass. But a dipping sauce of raspberry, cranberry and almond is an unnecessary flavor killer.
Bruschetta Indiano does worse. The mixture of flavorless roasted tomatoes and paneer comes on top of grilled bread that’s cold. Samosas are hot and crisp, but the potato filling is mealy. The crab bhurzee (scramble) is devoid of seasoning.
If there’s one reason to visit, it’s Khatta Meetha. Hindi for tart and sweet, the creamy curry of raw mango and fragrant spices is a holdover from Rangmahal. The entree starts spicy, finishes sweet and does just as well old school with chicken breast as it does new school with slow-braised octopus.
From there, the main dishes struggle. Lamb saag is mushy with chunks of overcooked lamb leg. Aloo gobhi (potato and cauliflower) is greasy.
Sizzling tandoori lamb chops are a $35 show. They arrive from the kitchen on fire, turning heads as they flicker and sizzle to the table where they are extinguished by a few flicks of a server’s hand. But the meat is overcooked, only made edible by a 24-hour soak in a green mango marinade. The accompanying pickled vegetables are too tart, wedges of potatoes limp and salty.
Desserts are still in their infancy, Apaar admits. One that should stay is the gajar ka halwa, a slow-stewed mix of shredded carrots, nuts and ricotta cheese that arrives on a sizzling platter topped with a scoop of ice cream of the day. Paired with delicious Indian coffee, a chicory roast with condensed milk and traditional spices, they show creativity is possible but far from easy. At progressive prices, the bar is high.