|Avocado appetizer at Ananda|
We ate off the "soft opening" menu Monday night, and we particularly enjoyed some dishes that we had never seen before. An appetizer salad of cucumber, avocado and herbs was the star of the meal. Then the cardamon-kissed desserts stole the show at the end.
|The shrimp entree|
Ananda is one of the prettier spots for dinner. You can still hear traffic off Maple Lawn Boulevard, but the dining room with open walls makes for a beautiful spot, complete with white tablecloths and a Monday night show by a baby bunny on the grass outside. It's nice enough for a date, but completely friendly to the kids who have been eating when we visited.
This is an ambitious kitchen. The dal and the raita were just side dishes in our meal, but they were intensely flavorful. Great cooks use Indian spices and herbs in a way that I have never mastered at home, and they're paying attention to those details even in the side dishes. They hit similar successes in the chickpea entree and in our desserts -- a house-made ice cream and a rice pudding.
But Ananda stands out because they're pushing the offerings of local Indian restaurants. I have said for years that I'd love specials or seasonal dishes because several of our Indian kitchens are among the most-inspired in town. Ananda's avocado salad -- fresh vegetables, dressed beautifully and served with the crunch of a papadum -- was a revelation. Simultaneously Indian, but new to us.
|The chickpea entree|
Overall, this is a fun place to check out. People are loyal to their Indian favorites because they're among the deepest cuisines in Howard County. We happily alternate between the curries at Royal Taj or House of India and the dosas and south Indian food at Mango Grove. Ananda could create its own niche -- the same white tablecloth feel of Royal Taj, but a bar for cocktails and a menu that offers slightly different tricks.
Ananda is on Maple Lawn Boulevard just south of Johns Hopkins Road. They don't have a sign yet, but they're across the parking lot from a Suntrust. Ananda joins a scene with five established Indian restaurants in Columbia -- House of India, Mango Grove, Royal Taj, Flavors of India, and Nepalese-Indian Curry & Kabob -- plus the new Chutney that replaces Akbar's and the quick service Tandoor Grill on Johns Hopkins Road.