REVIEW: Veda, a Modern Indian Bistro in Philadelphia
DECOR: 5/5 - Amahze. I loved it from the minute I opened the door.
VIBE: 4/5 - Very nice, laid back for the price-point, but it seemed to be an older crowd. (55+)
FOOD: 5/5 - It was seriously that good.
SERVICE: 4/5 - Too attentive. We needed some space to breath, literally. (We were full.)
PRICE: $$ - Appetizers around $10, Entrees around $20.
FINAL WORD: Not your typical Indian spot. An instant favorite. You'll want to come back with friends, family, and the happy hour crew.
My friend asked me if I wanted to go to a new Indian restaurant last Saturday. It took me all of two seconds to agree, a timeframe that although brief, housed two separate thoughts:
1.) YES, yes, a thousand times yes!
2.) "New?" How "new," could an Indian restaurant be? For better or worse, they're almost all the same, and interchangeable.* **
* Disclaimer: Yes, I realize they are all virtually identical to satisfy the American craving for palatable staples like tikka masala and those free tortilla chip things.
** We've also similarly nearly ruined Chinese cuisine stateside, as well.
But Veda is not just another Indian restaurant. Housed in the old Le Castagne spot on 19th and Chestnut, it's beautiful from before you even enter the big glass doors. There's a monochrome library/cabinet of curiosities by the hostess stand, which itself is complete with an old-fashioned phone, and while the bookshelves almost obscure the restaurant from sight, creating a really private and intimate feel once seated, you can still see the bar and the barstools lined up by the window and entryway, which has more of a snappy, light-filled, European cocktail hour vibe.
It was only 5pm when we got there to ask for a table but we were told they were fully booked for the evening. Not bad for less than a month on the scene, right? The hostess came up with a solution pretty quickly though, and phoned a party that was late for their reservation, which ended up being a no-show, so we scored a table. (Wonder if that party knows what they missed out on?)
I owed my friend the seat with the view from last time we dined out when I got the booth seat (aka the People Watching seat) so I made the heroic sacrifice of sitting facing the booth, but because of the architecture of the place, there is no bad seat in the house - there was still plenty to look at and take in. The restaurant, which was nearly empty when we sat down, quickly filled up.
The menu was a lot of fun because there were so very few "classics" that Americans are accustomed to. We opted for Spinach Chaat as an appetizer, which I had always envisioned as a creamy, runny mess, but at Veda it is served crispy in a big, beautiful mound decked with tiny pieces of finely chopped tomato and a hint of yogurt. Chicken Tikka Masala, which I would be embarrassed to admit is my go-to if I didn't love it so, so much, was noticeably absent, but there were a couple similar substitutes, such as Chicken Tikka Makhani, with fenugreek greens, ginger and honey ($19) and a sweet and spicy dish called Chicken Lababdor ($19 and très fun to say aloud) with big pieces of caramelized onion and smoky tomatoes.
Turns out, I didn't mind being "forced" to try something new, not one bit. The food is truly outstanding, and the menu at Veda really made me rethink what I thought I knew about Indian cuisine and I really got to appreciate the bright, fresh flavors and textures that have become so bastardized in mainstream, fast-foodish Indian takeout.
The service lost a point because (ready?) it was *too* attentive. Our server spent about 3 and a half minutes telling us about two new wines, but neither of us are into wine and so we all could have saved a lot of time (ours) and energy (hers). She also cleared our appetizer plate too soon, not realizing that we would want to literally scrape every fleck of the Spinach Chaat ($8) off the plate because it was that good.
They were also surprisingly stingy with the rice (it comes free with each entree) which is odd because the fact that rice is super cheap is no restaurant-industry secret. They brought basically a thimble full for both of us to share, and we had to ask for a second bowl, which was individually sized, not family sized. (Usually, most Indian restaurants provide one serving of rice per entree, not one per table.)
We did the usual sit-back-and-digest move that one is wont to do after a great meal eaten perhaps too enthusiastically, and immediately three separate servers and the manager came up and asked if we were done. We were not. I understand that we were lucky to sneak in without a reservation but we were truly feeling pressured to move on and give up our seats.
None of that stopped me from raving about the restaurant for the entire rest of the weekend, though, about everything from the decor and vibe to the delicious food. I'm already fantasizing about my next meal there, and have promised everyone I know to take them to Veda. I'm especially interested in the two course prix-fixe lunch ($15-$16), the House Cardamom beer ($8), and the kolfi, pictures of which look like a beautifully made panna cotta.
Oh and did I mention - Happy Hour is every day (even Sunday!) at the bar. 50% off drinks and small plates. Happy, indeed!