Raaga, when it rose from the dead, like the most delicious phoenix, was greeted with trumpet fanfare — at least in my heart. The Indian restaurant closed last year when its esteemed chef and captain, Pramod “Paddy” Rawal, announced he could lead the kitchen no more on the advice of his doctor, who told him he was working too hard to continue making the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten. Fair enough. I bid Paddy a fond farewell, sitting down one last time in the restaurant during its final week, savoring every bite and taking more than a few photographs for posterity, with the harebrained idea that I might be able to halfway duplicate the recipes in my own kitchen from looking at the pictures. I sent thoughts to Rawal: Take care of yourself. And Come back, come back, come back.
And, lo! Would you look at that? This fall, Raaga returned under the auspices of Raaga Go (410 Old Santa Fe Trail, 505-983-5555). It would be takeout only this time, Rawal announced, and I, and so many others, shouted in unison: “Fine! We will eat it in a house. We will eat it with a mouse. We will eat it here or there! We will eat it anywhere!”
Rawal’s curries are delightful from tip to tail — if you’ve had one, there’s no need to waste words glorifying them. But one Raaga Go menu item stands out as having been particularly missed. It’s the kind of dish I’ve never had anywhere else at anywhere near this level of tastiness: the spinach chaat. Perennially recommended by waiters at the old brick-and-mortar Raaga, the flash-fried spinach salad is a marvel. It’s the sort of appetizer you inhale, and then, as I once witnessed a tourist couple do, order again in one sitting, urging the kitchen to hold back the main courses just a minute more.
The crunch of the warm fried spinach softens in a tangy yogurt dressing. Raw white onions have never been more cleverly deployed, boosting the tomato chunks to a near-sweetness by contrast. Eat one; then order another. It’s as good as it once was. The only difference is that now, you’ll not be licking your plate but the cardboard to-go box.