April 02, 2009|By Rob Kasper

Spicy Garden

6400 Baltimore National Pike, Catonsville, 410-747-0080. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m-9:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday.

Spicy Garden, a new Indian restaurant in Catonsville, lives up to its name. The fare can be fiery, and the vegetables are plentiful.

Tucked in the back of Westpark Shopping Center on Baltimore National Pike, the restaurant is next to Patel Brothers Indian grocery store. The decor is spare: rows of small tables, photos of Indian dishes on the walls and, in the corner, a television tuned to cricket matches and news reports on the shifting alliances among India's political parties.

Choosing from a long list of southern Indian specialties on the carryout menu, I started with two vegetable dishes, sambar vada, $4.75, and tomato utappam, $6. Vada was a savory doughnut made from lentils and soaked in sambar, a vegetable stew. The menu said "spicy," but to my taste, this dish was mild, filling and not much to look at.

The tomato utappam, however, a pancake made with a fermented rice batter and dotted with tomatoes and chilies, was strikingly good-looking and flavorful. When I dipped the pancake in a bowl of fiery green chutney, hot and sweet notes danced on my tongue. I could have danced all night with tomato utappam.

Another pleasing morsel was the $4.50 onion pakora. Every cuisine seems to have its version of fried dough, and I seem to be attracted to each. In this rendition, finely chopped onion bits were dipped in a chickpea batter and fried. The result was a savory snack that I couldn't stop nibbling.

The chicken vindaloo, $9, was disappointing. I like vindaloo and have made various vindaloo dishes at home. The spicing was fine and fiery, but the portion was light on the chicken and heavy on potato.

Best bite: : Tomato utappam, $6, a savory rice pancake with tomatoes and chilies, served with green chutney

Also tasted: : Onion pakora, $4.50; sambar vada, $4.75

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