Restaurant entrepreneur Geogy Chacko, who has owned several spots named Chutney Grill and Beba's, has opened an upscale Indian dinner house, Far Eats, on the western fringe of Belltown at Fifth & Bell, just in time to take advantage of the 40-story apartment building under construction to the west. Doesn't hurt that South Lake Union's diverse, well-traveled and well-paid workforce is also within walking distance.
Conichon previewed an eclectic menu of toned-down Indian dishes, including excellent tandoor-baked naan, before the formal opening in June. The oven itself was left over from the first tenant in the space, seven years ago, called Spice; in the interim the spot was also Amore Infused Italian. The trouble at the preview dinner, aside from timid spicing, turned out to be a balky point-of-sale system; that's now been fixed.
The adjacent spots on Fifth (Belltown Burger, Dos Amigos, Beba's Deli Market and a curry-in-a-hurry spot called 3 Asian) are also owned by Chacko under the "Global Food Garden" umbrella. Unlike the neighboring businesses, Chacko does his own cooking at Far Eats. An all-day menu is available beginning at 11 a.m. along with thali plates; there's also a list of happy hour drinks and snacks. As for the spicing, it's adjustable, from "Americanized" to fiery; let the kitchen know.
Chacko (whom everyone calls Geogy--like Georgie, but without the "r") really comes into his own at dinner. (Technically, you can order off the dinner menu all day.) The first thing to order is a flat bread or two, baked in that tandoor (garlic and spinach were particularly tasty). Then try some appetizers. The calamari are "breaded" not in bread crumbs but in are "breaded" not in bread crumbs but in a batter of besan flour made of lentils, good news for the gluten-intolerant, and served with a cilantro aioli. The fragrant clam chowder is flavored with fenugreek and saffron, enhanced with a Himalayan spice called kasturi. (There's a spot in the Pike Place Market called Kastoori Grill.) The curried mussels, from Penn Cove, are served in a soy-cream sauce that you will want to scoop out of the bowl with a shell, drop by drop, until there's nary a drop left.
Over on the "Specialty Dishes" side of the menu, the malabar lamb is astonishingly good.
("One of the most exciting Indian dishes I've tasted in ages," said my razor-sharp dinner companion, Dominic.) It's a dish from Chacko's home state of Kerala, in the less prosperous south of India, and it has an authenticity you don't often find in Seattle, where the Indian restaurants are generally owned by immigrants from the north. Chacko's lamb tasted of roasted coconut and freshly roasted coriander seed. The mango prawns were also knockout good, roasted with garlic and glazed with mango chutney.
There's yet another menu of "traditional" (i.e., northern) Indian dishes (curries, khorma, vindaloo, tikkas and saags) which makes it harder to decide and, at the same time, makes you wonder whether a single kitchen can possibly produce so many different flavors. The way to find out, I suppose, is to return often.