Fans of the former Clay Oven -- our 2001 pick for Best Indian Restaurant -- will feel right at home inside the new Indian Café (14043 Brookpark Road). The clean, handsome, and transcendently aromatic little restaurant inside the Budget Inn is the Clay Oven's third incarnation; the first location, in Fairview Park, was lost to urban renewal, and the second, in Parma, dried up for lack of a liquor license.
As were its predecessors, the Indian Café is neat, tidy, and welcoming, tastefully accented with Indian artwork, brass, and white-cloth-draped tables topped with glass. Catchy, colorful Hindi and Punjabi pop-music videos play on several strategically placed television screens. And most important, the freshly made food is as good as ever -- everything from sweet-tart lassi (a cool, refreshing yogurt drink) to deep-fried poori, a puffy whole-wheat bread that hits many of the same flavor notes as New Mexican sopaipillas.
During a recent midday visit, the savory vegetarian dish navratan korma ($8.95) was exquisite: thick, creamy, and per our request, just fiery enough to make our taste buds tingle. Chicken palak ($10.95), with puréed spinach, freshly ground spices, and light cream, was complexly flavored, with plenty of buttery, boneless chicken. Both dishes were served with saffron-scented basmati rice, attentively prepared so that the grains were, as tradition mandates, "like two brothers: close, but not stuck to one another."
And while we can't see why anyone would demand booze, when they could have fragrant masala tea, the restaurant once again has a full bar, serving wine, mixed drinks, and American and Indian brewskis, including Kingfisher, Flying Horse, and Taj Mahal.
Lunch and dinner are served daily; call 216-676-9550 for reservations.
Teatime . . . Owner Elizabeth Gevelber recently instituted new hours at La Tea Da, her ultrafeminine tearoom and gift shop in Rocky River (20033 Detroit Road, 440-333-8013). The cheerful spot, with its trompe l'oeil-painted walls, intricate intarsia flooring, and toile-swagged windows, is now open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. And teetotalers, take note: Sunday hours have been shuffled to noon to 4 p.m.
Besides soups, salads, sandwiches, and assorted sweets, the tearoom serves almost three dozen different types of teas and herbal tisanes, including favorites such as white mutan, green jasmine, chrysanthemum oolong, and organic passion plum with ginseng.
Reservations are accepted for parties of five or more.