My tandoori-loving heart skipped a beat when the Schiro's Bar & Cafe space began a slow-but-steady conversion into Silk Road, a New Orleans-influenced Indian restaurant.
Those who know the joy of a thick, ghee-glistened yellow curry will flock to Silk Road, which — in its fledgling state — already is serving the kind of high-quality, richly nuanced Indian food that is rare in New Orleans.
Previous iterations of the cafe at what was formerly known as Schiro's Bar and Cafe served Indian food, but the new name reflects its slow-but-steady transition toward a menu that's almost entirely Indian. The lunch menu retains some New Orleans classics — po-boys, a seafood platter — that speak to the corner store's roots, but Silk Road acknowledges its po-boy-heavy history in a subtly elegant redesigned dining area that blends polished refined dark wood with intricate, jewel-toned murals. There's a little bit of something old, something new and something borrowed that's been elevated to impressive heights.
Silk Road's menu combines New Orleans' flavors and sensibilities with an approachable concept of Indian food, achieving its aim more often than not. The lemon grass crab bisque is a saffron-colored, sweetly delicate start to any meal, with the brightness of lemon grass pepping up a silky, refreshing broth holding tender pieces of crabmeat.
Samosas are uniquely packaged — empanada-style, not in the typical pyramidal pods — and are nimbly assembled with an all-vegetarian filling of cumin-spiced potatoes, lentils and carrots enhanced by the tangy, puckering bite of tamarind dipping sauce. Korean-style chicken wings arrive deep-fried and in full-wingspan portions, but could use a stronger application of the chili-flecked, soy sauce-based glaze.
It is easy to create your own sampler option with the starter items, with the majority offered at half the cost (but similar portion sizes) of entrees. The restaurant also lends itself to budget date nights, offering a tasting menu — including an appetizer, entree and dessert — for $25.
Main courses are Indian-based fusion, with unexpected (occasionally ham-fisted) splashes of New Orleans and Asian flavors. Sesame-crusted Atlantic salmon is perfectly seared — plump and pink — with a well-seasoned, nutty, seed-spotted top layer. Unfortunately, it swims in a large pool of wasabi beurre blanc, which would be a better complement in a lesser amount.
The ginger-hoisin glaze slathered on the braised short ribs is the menu's best-crafted sauce, with a balance of zippy luster and umami depth raising the chunks of tenderly soaked, slow-cooked beef to new heights. Green curry shrimp — the menu's surest bet — arrive with large shrimp firmly head-on, sauteed in a chartreuse-colored concoction of garlic, ginger, lemon grass and sweet, milky coconut cream.
A stable of side dishes is rotated and paired with main courses across the menu, and one of the most common is fennel-flecked jasmine rice and a bland selection of wilted greens cooked down with ribbons of white onion. A more thoughtful pairing of sides with entrees with better attention to the flavor of these sidekicks would help create stronger plated presentations and balances of flavors.
The menu noticeably lacks Indian bread, with common options such as naan and roti nowhere to be found. The addition of those or anther bread would provide the perfect vehicle for scooping up the last bits of deep burgundy, heat-packed vindaloo.
It's been a long journey, but Silk Road has given the Marigny a destination for Indian food.