Photo by Tony Valainis
THE STARTER arrived almost festively on a long black paddle slotted with six quarter-sized holes. Inside each one perched a delicate, egg-shaped cracker shell crowned with a dollop of cream and a wee bouquet of microgreens. Unsure how to eat something so small and yet so meticulously structured—the menu called this dish “Namkeen Shots,” a riff on the trendy Indian street snack golgappa—we lifted the fragile orbs like barside tequilas and did our best to take the perfect bite.
The crispy exoskeleton gave way to a smooth core of potato masala gently seasoned with onion and cumin. And then came the sweet, cool finish of that fluffy topping, which registered somewhere between sour cream and yogurt, adding a top layer of decadence. These savory mouthfuls are presented as one shared appetizer, probably meant to be passed around the table as hefty amuse bouches. But I could not stop popping them into my mouth, like deviled eggs at a pitch-in dinner, marveling at the messy little microcosms of flavor and texture.
Similar revelations accompanied every course at 1947 Fusion Eatery & Lounge, Indy’s newest contemporary Indian restaurant cranking out inspired curries alongside gussied-up biryani and jalfrezi. At this clean-cut northside establishment that opened in May, the cuisine’s traditional yogurt-marinated meats and rich stews get dramatic upgrades, presented on black matte plates smeared, swooshed, and dotted with sauces and decorated with tufts of microgreens.
The place is owned by the Garg family, which earlier opened a trio of quick-serve Indian Tandoor & Tikka restaurants in the Indianapolis area. With 1947, a reference to the year India won its independence from the British crown, they have taken the bold, soothing flavors of Indian food in the opposite direction of fast casual. Elaborate Nawabi lamb chops are arranged in an aromatic pile. Whole fish prepared in the tandoori style await bone-picking. Lightly charred octopus tentacles lounge on a bed of a rich, tangy curry. A fellow foodie who raved early on about 1947’s chicken tikka and lamb curry declared its buttery flatbread, roti, as light and crisp as any he has had anywhere, including London, where he once ate the best Indian meal of his life. My endorsement isn’t nearly as worldly, but I can tell you that the butter chicken—a dish so aligned with entry-level American diners that it inspired a helpful Indian-food podcast called Beyond Butter Chicken—is on a whole other level here. Succulent hunks of meat swim in a rich, not heavy, tomato-and-butter gravy that’s slightly sweet with a zing of ginger and touch of heat. The server took one look at me and suggested I order butter chicken for lunch. Which I did, right on cue, feeling only slightly like a tourist.
Located in one of Castleton Square’s periphery strips, 1947 transformed a storefront that once housed a dry cleaner and tuxedo rental shop into a sleekly understated dining room. With a calming, neutral greige-on-greige color scheme—walls and clamshell booths gleaming like the inside of an Icelandic man cave—its only focal points are a series of large-scale photos depicting Indian landmarks and a yellow Royal Enfield motorcycle parked against a wall of gleaming silver tiles with a hand-lettered “Do not sit” sign perched on its leather seat.
Laid out with an adjoining bar that pours top-shelf spirits and pretty cocktails, this low-key beauty is the latest in a new guard of restaurants bringing the lush, complex food of the subcontinent to Indianapolis. It joins fine-tuned gems like Aroma Indian Cuisine & Bar’s two stunning locations, SoBro fave The Little India Restaurant, and hip Chapati Beta inside The Garage food hall. One interesting distinction here is that the menu offers a brief Indo-Chinese section that includes Hakka fried rice and Chinese bhel, a stacked salad of crunchy noodles soaked in tangy-sweet sauce. The spectrum of curries ranges from creamy cashew shahi korma to oniony chicken kadhai to potato-based vindaloo. And the tandoori selection goes beyond the familiar pieces of bone-in chicken, applying the clay-oven cooking method to lamb chops, fish, and even sections of grilled pineapple.
Among the Chef Specialties, there’s slow-cooked, bone-in goat (Rampuri taar gosht), chargrilled salmon garnished with fresh paneer, and fruit-studded potato croquettes (Mughlai kofta) cooked in a rich cashew curry. Dense and garlicky Parsi lamb curry is packed full of fall-apart bits of wonderfully unguent meat that you eat between forkfuls of fluffy, golden saffron rice. And then go ahead and sop up the last drops of butter-slicked brown sauce with a slip of chewy, gently charred garlic naan.
Quick, attentive servers can fill in the gaps of a menu stingy with the details, a minor hiccup for those unacquainted with the language or the cuisine … beyond butter chicken, if you will. It’s still a lovely journey, even when the territory feels awkwardly unfamiliar to someone who is only learning how to navigate the mind-bending flavors and ride the aromatic wave of whole spices.