It's a bold name for a restaurant, sort of like Seattle's Best Coffee or The Country's Best Yogurt. These things invite you to scoff, to call the bluff. I knew Seattle's best coffee, and you, sir, are no Seattle's best coffee.
And it's got a couple strikes against it right off the bat. For one, The Essence of India is in Tallahassee. The pizza's good in this town, but it's not typically strong on ethnic cuisine. For another thing, it's tucked in the corner of a strip mall next to a discount hair products store and an indoor archery range, behind the Olive Garden. That's bad karma no matter how you slice it.
Despite the rough prospects, this is an outstanding restaurant. I've got no real basis for determining if this is authentic or not, but the food is delicious. I typically order "medium" spicy and it's fiery and nuanced, with all the layers of complexity and spice interaction I associate with good Indian food. In everything I've had the sauces are thin, subtle and deeply spiced rather than the brightly colored-goop I've come to expect at more typical Indian places. The Korma is outstanding, with bits of almonds, and a milky, rich faintly sweet flavor. I'm also partial to the Madras sauce, which is dark and a little smoky. Tandoori items, especially the chicken Tikka are tender and moist. With Tracy and the kids this week, we ordered a feast, and there was general consensus that the Samosas and Aloo Tikki (kid favorites) were excellent. The plan Nan is good and fresh, but the garlic is more fun.
Often I write these posts after a single experience; in this case this is place I've been to maybe a dozen times. I'll probably tire of it sooner or later - it's on Appalachee Parkway right across from the Courtyard I stay at – but for months now it’s been one of my favorites. I’ve yet to be disappointed with anything I’ve ordered, and look forward to continuing to reach down the menu to try things I haven’t tried anywhere.