After a day touring Biltmore we were hungry, and specifically we were in the mood for something ethnic. A quick check of Google Maps showed an Indian restaurant within walking distance of our hotel in Asheville, so we decided to give it a shot.
Our walk took us onto Lexington Avenue and into a very funky, eclectic area full of second hand record stores, book stores, and alternative health stores. There we found Mela Indian Restaurant.
The funky, eclectic nature of the street outside carries over into the restaurant, mostly in terms of its clientele and staff. There were a few unusual outfits, and people watching was fun.
The interior has dark walls with a red ceiling and yellow highlights. A large bar takes up one corner, and a counter opens into the kitchen with views of the ovens and food prep areas.
When we arrived at 6:00 there weren’t very many patrons. By the time we finished, however, the place was hopping. It seemed to be quite popular.
Most of the traditional Indian dishes you would expect are available. There is a large variety of appetizers, soups, and salads, ranging anywhere from a couple of dollars to $15 for a dinner salad.
The entree’s include vindaloos, curries, and other traditional dishes, available with chicken, lamb, and even salmon. There is an extensive list of vegetarian dishes. These range from $11 to $16.
Our menu included a separate sheet with the evening’s specials. These were priced similarly to the regular meals.
We started with an order of mirch pakoras. These were hot green peppers dipped in chickpea flour batter and then deep fried, then served with mint and tamarind chutney. The mint chutney had almonds, to which Laura is allergic, so the waitress was able to bring her a side of the tamarind chutney. Both were excellent. The peppers had a heat that kept accumulating, and the chutney did nothing to calm it. By the time we were done with the appetizers, my mouth was ablaze, and I consumed every drink at hand to quench it. It was good.
The appetizers also came with papadam and more of the mint and tamarind chutneys. The papadam was light and tasty, and not greasy like some Indian places I’ve been.
I had ordered a chicken tikki masala, and Laura had ordered Kashmeri curry from the specials list. When these arrived they looked lovely, but the waitress had a distressed look. She told Laura that the curry also had almonds, although these weren’t listed in the ingredients. Laura and I switched dishes. She was disappointed at not getting curry and that they hadn’t said anything about nuts in the dish, and that somewhat tainted her view of the meal.
I tried a bit of both dishes. I had actually wanted to order the curry, but decided on something else when Laura ordered it so that we would have a variety. That turned out to be fortuitous. The curry was spicy, and provided no relief from the heat of the peppers eaten previously. There was a bit of a bitter aftertaste, but it was still good. The naan and rice did help calm things down. The curry also came garnished with an edible orchid.
The chicken tikki masala was a bit tamer. It was a tomato-based soup with onions and other vegetables. The flavors on it were excellent, as well. Both entree’s came with a small bowl of lentil soup.
Service was a bit spacey at times. Drinks weren’t refilled very often, which was a problem with the very spicy food. However, our waitress did catch the problems with food allergies, and the omission of ingredients from the list wasn’t her fault. Her solution of “why don’t you just switch?” seemed a bit flippant, but worked out in the long run.
Apart from the problem with the food allergies, the overall experience was positive. We liked the food, and the prices weren’t too bad. The chef needs to realize the potential dangers of food allergies, and make sure alternatives are available.