“I’ve been looking for space in this area for a long time. First we went to South U, then we went to Liberty, and then we finally got this place,” says Mohana Krishnalal (“everyone knows me as Lal”), who finally opened Taste of India Suvai after eight grueling months of renovating the space that for eighteen years housed Kaleidoscope (which had moved to Fourth and Ann in 2008).

“Four walls, and that’s it,” says Lal, describing what he started with. “The place had walls?” would be the response of anyone who ever set foot in Kaleidoscope. Of course, the place had walls–it’s just that no one ever knew where they were, because they were hidden behind towering piles of comic books and in murky depths where even the dust seemed to be covered with dust.

Turns out, it’s a long and narrow space–one those with very long memories may recall from Kaleidoscope’s predecessor, the Best Steak House–and it’s once again tidy and restaurant-like. It wasn’t easy to get it that way. When Lal says he got only “four walls,” he’s not kidding. “We had to address the situation with the roof,” he says. “There were a lot of leaks here.” In addition to an entire kitchen, Lal went beyond code requirements to put in two restrooms and a dishwashing room, so the dirty dishes are not near the cooking. Outfitting the kitchen for both northern and southern Indian cooking required more than the usual number of appliances, he says during a walk-through. “Here’s the tandoor where we make the breads. The frying will be done there. We have two of these stoves, and here is the appliance where you make the crepe, and we have the bain-marie in the center,” not to mention various tables, sinks, and coolers.

By crepe he means dosa, a south Indian specialty made of rice flour, usually filled with vegetables, and served with chutney. Lal and his business partner, Lakshmanan Muthu, are former Northwest Airlines employees from the southern India city of Chennai (formerly Madras). They quit Northwest in 2004 and opened a restaurant named Suvai in Livonia. To distinguish the Ann Arbor location, they’re calling it “Taste of India Suvai.” Suvai means “taste” in Tamil, so they’re doubly emphasizing it.

In addition to the traditional dosas and other southern Indian favorites, Taste of India serves the spicy stews, tandooris, and biriyanis that are more familiar in these parts, as well as Indo-Chinese recipes (gobi Manchurian, chili chicken with garlic or ginger). Lal is more comfortable talking building codes than food–Muthu is the chef–but he is proud of the Indo-Chinese dishes: “Not many people know how to put the ingredients together,” he says. “Either it’s too spicy or too bland, but we’ve got the right mix.” Like many Indian restaurants, Taste of India has a buffet lunch.

Taste of India Suvai, 217 S. State. 327-6500. Lunch buffet: Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m, Sat. & Sun. noon-3:30 p.m. Dinner: Sun.-Thurs. 5-10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 5-10:30 p.m. tasteofindiaaa.com.

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