I love Indian food. I’m a child of two cultures, and both Indian food and southern food shaped my tastes. So before I get started, it’s worth noting that Indian food is never going to look pretty. What’s your favorite Indian (or Southern) dish – brown glop? Green glop? Orange glop? The deep fried brown thing?
Maybe this is why it annoys me when restaurants go for unnecessarily fussy presentations, or tack on “subtle touches” that will inevitably be overwhelmed by the powerful flavors of the cuisine.
While I step down from my soap box, I should probably tell you that Moksha is located in the Bellevue Collection, The Eastside’s shopping capitol. The space has a lovely bar area, and prominently features a wicker elephant lamp wearing a cape. Really, what else do you need? We first ordered the paneer pakoras off the happy hour menu. For those not in the know, pakoras are spicy, battered, deep fried morsels of happiness, usually involving a vegetable, or in this case some fresh cheese. The flavors were spot on, the mellow, creamy cheese contrasted nicely with the bite of the chili, and the trio of dipping sauces prevented the dish from being too one note. However, the exterior lacked a bit of crispiness I was hoping for, and the batter ended up being on the mealy side. The samosas were crunchy on the outside, warm and spicy within, though I would have gone for more peas If you’ve had a decently made samosa in your life, you have had Moksha’s: potatoes, peas, and spices all deep fried in the Indian version of a wonton. Accept no substitutes.
We also ordered the lamb karaikudi, tandoori chicken, and some garlic naan. Karaikudi cuisine is from south india and features powerful, aromatic spice blends comprised of chilis, cinnamon, cloves, cumin fenugreek and a variety of dried flower pods. Believe me when I say this, I have not had a better Karaikudi dish outside of Tamil Nadu, its home state. The lamb was perfectly cooked, soft and giving without being mushy and with just enough chewiness and texture. The sauce that accompanied it was spicy, rich, and deeply satisfying. The garlic naan was crispy, flaky and buttery, but it was hard to notice above the intensity of raw garlic. Combining it with the gravy from the lamb helped, but unless we were planning to stave off vampires, I would have preferred a more toned-down version of this dish.
If you frequent Indian restaurants, you’ll understand why this next statement is impressive: the tandoori chicken was cooked to perfection. Tandoori chicken is infamously tricky; it’s cooked in a clay oven and either the inner layers are medium rare, the outer layers are bone dry, or both. Moksha’s was the exception, tender, juicy and cooked through. The flavors were exactly what you’d expect them to be, and, let’s be honest, if you’re ordering tandoori chicken, you’re not looking for surprising twists of flavor.
The dessert menu had most of the Indian restaurant staples, but for me, the only choice was Rasmalai. I have a deep, abiding fondness for this Bengali dessert which combines sugary cream, soft paneer, and cardamom to make magic. My companion found it overly sweet, but she eats 80% chocolate as a ‘light snack.’ If Rasmalai is your thing, then Moksha’s iteration will really be your thing.
Ultimately, Moksha benefits most from comparison. It’s neither one of the many mediocre-to-poor Indian restaurants that litter Bellevue, nor one of the hip soulless restaurant-bar-club-abominations that you have come to exemplify mid to high end Bellevue Restaurants. The food is surprisingly authentic, well executed, and a welcome change of pace from the majority of restaurants in downtown Bellevue. It is not a destination, but if you’re getting ready for a night out, or finishing up your Christmas shopping, you’d be hard pressed to do better.
515 Bellevue Square
Bellevue, WA 98004
Article by Vikram Rangraj, photography by Jessica Tupper.