Via Route 9: A Passage to India
It’s an incongruous, eye-catching sight — a ranch house painted gold and orange along Route 9, just south of Rhinebeck. This exterior is the first of many warming surprises people will notice when they stop to encounter what lies inside the fragrant Cinnamon, Dutchess County’s new South Indian restaurant.
It was only a year and a half ago when Shiwanti and Chaminda Widyarathna first opened their restaurant (Chaminda is the chef, Shiwanti the fashionable mood provider). The young couple first came to Rhinebeck from Sri Lanka, the island we once called Ceylon, located off the southern tip of India proper. This explains why their menu offers a generous serving of South Indian specialties, including several from both Kerala and Goa. Genuine South Indian food is rarely encountered in restaurants of our region — dishes like Lamb Ularthiyathu, simmered in a spicy coconut milk sauce typical of the southern state of Kerala, and the lovely okra based Bandakka Beduma, stir fried with fresh spices typical of Ceylon. Not surprisingly for island inhabitants, Sri Lankans are experts with seafood; this is evident in the many delicious presentations offered here. Three different curries feature halibut — the Chef’s Special Fish Curry ($18.25) is a particularly fine one, redolent with tamarind juice and green chili. There is also sea bass and oodles of shrimp; five different shrimp dishes are listed on the current menu.
That is not to say that the kitchen neglects the North Indian specialties American diners have come to expect. Cinnamon offers eight different tandoori possibilities, ranging from New Zealand lamb chops to sea bass. The Uttar Kakori Kebab ($18.50) is a delicious kebab of ground lamb and spices grilled in the tandoor. A range of Indian bread ($3.50-$3.95) arrives piping hot from the kitchen — puri, paratha, many types of delicious nan, as well as chapati, the large, whole wheat flatbread that is a staple across the entire subcontinent of India. Appetizers range from a South Indian take on calamari ($9.00)— exceptionally good and unusually spicy with peppers and onions — to the wonderful veggie Samosa Chat ($6.95), a salad of samosa pieces and chick peas dressed in a scrumptious yogurt dressing. Not to be missed is the Lasuni Gobi ($7.00), a semi-miraculous transformation of cauliflower that has delighted every guest I’ve shared it with.
Vegetarians have many options, either as main courses — Wambatu Moju, an unusual and delicious Sri Lankan eggplant dish made with whole baby eggplant — or among the numerous appetizers and soups. For carnivores, the various lamb curries ($17.00) are highly recommended. These can range from quite hot to not at all; just express your preference. A lunch buffet is served throughout the week, with a special buffet on Sunday nights. Offerings often include seafood and multiple vegetarian options.
Quite apart from wonderful flavors, fragrances, and freshness of ingredients, artful visual presentation characterizes every dish at Cinnamon, and clearly matters to the kitchen. Out front, the service is uniformly thoughtful and professional. Shiwanti’s background in fashion is evident in sophisticated details of the charming dining room. Unique orange fixtures cast a soft pool of light over each table, and interesting art hangs on walls of saturated color, creating a warm cozy ambiance, even when it’s cold outside.
For those partial to Indian desserts, there is Gulab Jaman, the classic over-the-top rich and sweet dumplings in sweet cardamom syrup, and a very good Garam (carrot) Halwa — popular even with my husband, who would otherwise stick to the Madras (spiced) coffee. Also excellent are Kulfis (Indian sorbet), mango ice cream and rice pudding (all between $3 and $5).
When asked what surprised her most about opening a restaurant here, Shiwanti mentioned that everyone had warned them against their current location. By the end of their first year, however, Cinnamon had gained a loyal following — no surprise for those who have experienced this happy addition to the area’s dining landscape. —Alice McGowan
Cinnamon Indian Cuisine
5856, Route 9
Open Wednesday through Monday
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., until 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays
Dinner: 5 p.m to 9 p.m.; 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays