Shamiana

2255 NE 65th St (with a branch in Kirkland), 524-3664.

Lunch Mon-Fri 11 am-2:30 pm; dinner Sun-Thurs 5-9:30 pm, Fri-Sat 5-10 pm.

A very good dinner at Shamiana the other night instigated an interesting conversation about what, exactly, we mean when we say that food is "authentic." I was enjoying my food, but was miserably castigating myself because it seemed to me somehow inauthentic, partly because the brother and sister owners are Americans who spent their childhood in East Pakistan, and Americans cooking Indian food is not my idea of... something.

But what was my problem? What would have made Shamiana more "authentic"? If they had exotic Indian ladies waiting on tables instead of wholesome American young adults? (You may imagine quotation marks around as many of those words as you like.) Should the Indian ladies be cooking? Are they using pots from an Indian street market, or All-Clad from a restaurant supply store? Imported ingredients or American substitutions? You can see how this might make you nuts.

You can also ruin a meal trying to figure out whether or not the scallops in your scallops Shah Jahan ($15.95) are something you'd find in an Indian kitchen instead of just enjoying them, perfectly cooked (seared but tender) in their delicious, fragrant tomatoey bath. (Although, since scallops aren't absorbent, the sauce was enjoyed more fruitfully with naan dipped into it.) Our ginger chili prawns ($7.95) were wrapped in what seemed like crisp won ton skins--but so what? The mango dipping sauce served with it was so lovely--sweet, spicy, fragrant with ginger--that we continued to dip shards of red cabbage into it long after the shrimp was gone.

As far as I can tell, the combination of spices that predominates on Shamiana's menu is southern (tamarind, chilies, coconut) although there are northern-style curries and naan. I also tasted a tamarind pork kabob ($16.95) that was charred in a lovely way, juicy, and sweet enough not to need the sort-of-chutney that came with it.

There's more to the story. Nearly 10 years ago, unhappily marooned in Kirkland in an unhappy job, a friend and I went at least once a week to the Shamiana happily situated in a nearby strip mall. There we would gorge ourselves with Major Grey chicken curry, a British-inflected Indian curry (and the idea of curry, if you know anything about Indian food, is already suspect), enjoyed at an anonymous intersection of a West Coast suburb. Our pleasure, however, was quite authentic.