Review: 21 Spices hits the high notes

Will Watts

My love of food has taken me on a lot of culinary adventures; amazingly creative and delicious food, captivating presentations, a comfortable and engaging dining experience and quality service. 

21 Spices' dinner entree, chicken tikka.

The best restaurants will usually come up a little short on one or two of these points; which is easy to ignore when the balance weighs on the positive; but on this night, 21 Spices by Chef Asif hit the heights in every category. Bravo! Or should I say Shabash!

On this night, my dining companion and I took advantage of the three-course summer menu. It’s $35 per person and includes a glass of wine, or draft beer, appetizer, entree and dessert. 

Before you order a thing, you are served lentil chips with three distinct dipping sauces. A delicious pale sauce which will remind you of a Greek tzatziki sauce; a reddish sauce that will remind you of a Japanese sweet chili sauce and my favorite, a tamarind date chutney blend.  

21 Spices' lentil chips with three distinct dipping sauces.

For my appetizer, I chose the ajwain-spiced shrimp pakora. So, let’s break this delicious dish down for you -- ajwain or ajowan is an herb from India; pakora means fried snack. The shrimps will remind you of tempura, but with chickpea flour. The herbs are fresh and delicious and with the tamarind date chutney, you’ll wonder how your meal hasn’t already peaked.

For his appetizer, my partner in dine chose the vegetable samosas -- spiced potato with green peas, also served with the chutney. He shared with me, and all I can say is I wanted samosas! 

For the entrees, I had the Tandoori salmon, featuring a generous meat portion, pickled tomatoes in sauce form, asparagus, and fresh organic cumin-scented spinach sautéed. 

21 Spices' dinner entree, Tandoori salmon.

We’ve all ordered the salmon, right? Sometimes as permission to overindulge elsewhere. Often, we are disappointed. This is going to sound like an exaggeration, but this was the ... Best. Salmon. Ever. Cooked to perfection and married to this India-infused spice blend, it was an awakening. Who knew salmon could be the good? For the first time in my life, I had the salmon and wasn’t jealous of the chicken dish across the way.

That chicken dish, by the way, was chicken tikka, featuring diced chicken breast, cayenne and a “fenugreek & yogurt.” It’s like the Indian version of chicken fajitas, my dining companion said -- and yes, it was served in a skillet. All we needed were some lentil tortillas. 

21 Spices' appetizer, vegetable samosas.
21 Spices' appetizer, ajwain-spiced shrimp pakora.

Both entrees came with basmati rice; the light, fluffy perfect companion.

For dessert, I had the pistachio kulfee. It was two miniature popsicles made with mango and pistachio ice cream, with little chocolate cookie crumbles on top. They were a delight. Just the right amount of dessert. Although I would have happily eaten more. 

My friend had the Gulab jamun, little milky sweet balls of delight. 

If I had to pick one word for 21 Spices it would be perfection; on presentation, service, food quality and atmosphere.

Just a note on that: the restaurant was dimly lit; which is nice; but the table was brightly lit, so you could see your food and the menu. It seemed so easy to accomplish, it made me wonder why so few restaurants had succeeded at it before.   

21 Spices' pistachio kulfee; two miniature popsicles made with mango and pistachio ice cream, with little chocolate cookie crumbles on top.
On the 21 Spices dessert menu, Gulab jamun.

If you go

21 Spices by Chef Asif

4270 Tamiami Trail East #21, Naples