With soaring ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and a stunning bar housed under a curved expanse of bright yellow corrugated metal, it's too easy to call Indian Oven the most striking Indian restaurant in Central Ohio. I'd go as far as to call it one of the area's most striking restaurants, period.
This industrial-chic oasis resides in Downtown's Market Exchange District, a once-bustling stretch of Main Street that gets its name from the Central Market. An ancestor to the North Market, that public market anchored the area at the turn of the 19th century. These days, you can tell you're there once you start seeing a string of buildings marked with matching, mod silver lettering.
The Indian Oven space is loftlike, with exposed ceiling beams painted in a vibrant red. But linen-topped tables and a hushed lunchtime crowd add up to a vibe that's elegant and refined.
This place is ideal for newbies to the world of Indian cuisine. A popular lunch buffet is a good intro course, offering crowd-pleasing favorites like tandoori chicken and potatoey Alu Matar in all-you-can-eat portions.
Once you've graduated to curry-veteran status, you'll probably prefer ordering one of the more adventurous entrees. A nice touch: You can tailor your spice level to whatever you're comfortable with-mild, medium or hot. Medium's perfect for my non-native but ethnic-food-loving self.
And the staff here is incredibly attentive and helpful, explaining unfamiliar menu terms, offering recommendations for daring diners and always checking in to make sure everyone's pleased with their picks.
What to eat
The menu spans from traditional Indian dishes-you'll find your Chicken Tikka Masalas, your samosas and your palak paneer-to updated takes on South Asian flavors to match the ultramodern decor.
An Indian meal isn't complete without naan, and the simple-in-a-good-way Tandoori Naan appetizer ($2.75) is a must-order. Ask for it with a dipping sauce of sweet and just slightly spicy Mango Chutney ($1.50).
The Lamb Korma ($10.25) is straight-up Indian comfort food-a rich and creamy dish loaded with chunks of braised lamb plus hard-boiled egg slices and some whole cashews. Everything's been simmered slowly in a tomatoey cream-based sauce until it's nice and tender, and like most entrees here, it's all served over a bed of basmati rice.
On the less traditional side of things, there's the Salmon Bengali Style ($14). Hiding under a mound of a bunch of curried veggies-zucchini, carrots, peas, green beans, potato es, cauliflower, tomatoes-is a pan-sauteed salmon filet. It's light and flavorful, a nice alternative to some of the heavier meat-based entrees.
What to drink
To balance the heat from some of the spicier dishes, I adore the cooling powers of Sweet Lassi ($2.75). A cross between a smoothie and a melted milkshake, this tart yogurt drink is a traditional lunchtime quaff in India, and a quite tasty one.
Upgrade to the Mango Lassi ($4.75) for an even sweeter treat.
Everything on the Oven's dessert menu is homemade, and it's all delightful. But the Kulfi ($4), a bowl of homemade ice cream studded with almonds, pistachios and cardamom, is amazing.
This ice cream is wonderfully, almost indescribably, dense. It's infused with the cinnamony essence of cardamom, but any spiciness is tempered by the farm-fresh sweet cream base. I only wish they sold this stuff by the pint.
427 E. Main St., Downtown