Incendiary Indian: Cinnamon’s chicken madras is made with a spicy coconut gravy
Photograph by Teresa Horgan
Cinnamon Indian Bistro has been introducing adventurous diners to new foods since they first opened in Rhinebeck in June 2011. Chef Chaminda Widyarathna and his wife, Shiwanti, are from Sri Lanka, and they immediately added dishes from their homeland, as well as recipes from all around the Indian subcontinent, to the menu of Northern Indian dishes to which most Americans are accustomed. After a warm welcome from local diners, they opened a Poughkeepsie branch one year later. At the time, Shiwanti told us: “In Rhinebeck, people love something different. They’re not as adventurous in Poughkeepsie. People want their favorites.”
Well, times have changed. “There was a big demand for very quick, healthy food in Poughkeepsie,” says Shiwanti. “So we changed our entire menu to meet that need. It’s a whole different setup now. It’s more like a hang-out kind of bar with very nice cocktails. We’ve added more fast food from many different regions of India.”
In particular, Shiwanti is referring to kati rolls. “They are Indian-style wraps that are very popular in Calcutta,” she says. Fillings include monkfish, chicken marinated in yogurt and honey, and minced lamb and coriander. Also new are dosas: fermented creÌ‚pes or pancakes made from lentils and rice and popular in the southern Indian states. “We have the masala dosa here now; this is a typical South Indian snack,” she says, noting that it is stuffed with potatoes and spices and served with coconut chutney and vegetable sambar. “It is very interesting. You don’t usually get this in a restaurant.”
But by far the most heralded addition to the menu has been the hyderabadi dum biriyani. “It’s a very special kind of Indian rice,” says Shiwanti. “You get the rice, you soak it in water overnight, and then you steam it with vegetables, meat, saffron, and bay leaves. The rice becomes very fluffy and airy and has a really nice flavor. There are many places in New Jersey that serve this, but not many in New York.”
And what has the response been? “At the beginning it was very, very hard. People kept asking where their favorite dishes were. So we started giving samples and told people that they didn’t have to pay if they didn’t like it. Now, there are lot of people who come in just for the biriyani rice. People are really starting to get into the new menu.”
In addition, the restaurant still offers its popular lunchtime buffet ($9.95 per person during the week; $13 per person on weekends), as well as dishes from the tandoor oven — including the classic chicken and more adventurous options like the Cinnamon Mix Kebab, several small plates, and a variety of salads, soups, and curries.
Along with the new vibe comes a series of new events. “We are really trying to connect with the community,” says Shiwanti. On tap: art shows, Bollywood movie nights each Sunday at the Poughkeepsie branch, and a special Indian wine tasting/food pairing on February 20 at the Rhinebeck restaurant. “Indian wines are start- ing to become very popular,” says Shiwanti. “A lot of places in the U.S. are starting to carry them.”
If you’re searching for value and variety in Indian food, Tanjore’s weekday lunch buffet, at $9.99, provides both. Buffet diners can sample a selection of the restaurant’s most popular dishes — like masala dosa, grilled tandoori chicken, and of course naan — all of which are also included on their regular menu. And be sure to pair your meal with one of three Indian bottled beers that Tanjore carries. Most entreÌes are $10-$19.
If you go…
Cinnamon Indian Bistro Rhinebeck (845-876-7510), Poughkeepsie (845-232-5430)
Tanjore Indian Cuisine Fishkill. 845-896-6659; tanjoreindiancuisine.com