Photo by Ron Jasin

May 22, 2013

Sitar plays Indian music to our taste buds

Sitar.” Sounds like “guitar,” and sort of acts like one, too. This oversize Indian guitar-equivalent that the Beatles loved plays eerie, sinuous music that can’t be duplicated on a keyboard because it slides into the spaces between the keys.

When you think about it, Indian food is kind of like that, too. The sitar is an instrument of intriguing complexity that engages the senses with surprising new sounds that may not be familiar to Westerners but that everyone can learn to love as George Harrison did when he idly picked up a sitar and started strumming it during the filming of the movie “Help!”

Back when the Beatles were young, and so was I, Louisvillians pretty much had to travel to England to enjoy Indian food. Or, for that matter, Indian music. I still remember fondly discovering vindaloo and tandoori and chicken tikka masala and more at the countless curry houses that abounded around London’s Victoria Station.

When this region’s first Indian eateries opened in Cincinnati in the ’70s, it seemed well worth the short trip to load up on curry. It would be years later before an Indian restaurant finally came to Louisville as a permanent fixture, but since the arrival of Shalimar and Kashmir in the ’90s, and a half-dozen more now, we’re finally well-fixed for Indian fare.

Sitar — the restaurant, not the instrument — opened on Bardstown Road in 2008, a member of a loosely connected mini-chain of a half-dozen Sitar restaurants in Tennessee and Alabama. It seems to be thriving after five years, offering an extensive evening menu and drawing crowds with its smallish but well-curated lunch buffet that ranks as one of the Bardstown strip’s best midday bargains at $7.99 for all you can eat or $7.19 a pound for a takeout box.

The evening menu includes about 100 dinner options, most in the $10-$15 range, topping out at $15.99 for some seafood and lamb dishes.

The lunch buffet line doesn’t house an overly large selection, but it offers a good sampling of Indian flavors, with about a half-dozen vegetarian options to the left and a similar selection of meatful dishes to the right, salad in the middle and soups and dessert down at the end. We managed to sample just about all of it and judged it all above average for local Indian fare.

Just about everything except the desserts showed a touch of fire, ranging from just off-mild (chicken tikka masala) to gently hot (chickpea channa masala) to hotter (veggie korma) to get-your-attention hot (Indo-Chinese chile chicken).

We came, we saw, we ate. Tandoori chicken is juicy and savory, bright red with tandoori spices and charred black edges from high heat in the tandoori oven. Veggie korma with peas and chicken korma swim in a thick creamy orange sauce made with yogurt and cashews. Chicken tikka masala comes up bright red in its thick tomato-curry sauce. Sag puts a fiery Indian spin on creamed spinach, and mildly spicy channa masala curry makes even better use of chickpeas than hummus.

One batch of pakoras resembled giant Hershey kisses in shape, triangular pastry turnovers wrapped around hot-and-spicy curried mashed potatoes. Another batch came out as crisp batter-fried strips of onion, an Indian take on tempura.

Naan flatbread was tender and fresh. White basmati rice was scented with seeds; biryani rice loaded with veggies, pilaf-style. On the dessert table, I’m always up for a bowl of kheer, delicately scented rice pudding with pistachios, and gulab jamun, “donut holes” in honeyed liquid.

There’s sometimes a language barrier to service at Sitar, but our glasses were refilled and plates cleared away with the courteous efficiency I’d expect at a white-tablecloth eatery. We pretty much ravaged the buffet and got away with a $19.26 tab plus a $4 tip.

Sitar Indian Cuisine
1702 Bardstown Road • 473-8889


Get your disco on at APRON’s Disco Ball
APRON Inc., the new local nonprofit that helps get local food and drink workers “out of the weeds,” will host its second annual celebration and fundraiser, “Disco Ball,” on Sunday, June 2, from 4-7 p.m. at The Ice House, 226 E. Washington St.

The theme of the evening is “We Are Family,” with a live DJ playing disco-inspired music. More than 25 participating restaurants will serve samples of cocktails, appetizers and desserts. There’ll also be a silent auction featuring travel, shopping, dining and beverage products. Tickets are $40 in advance, available online at, or $50 at the door.  

I have to say that I've

By Hugh
I have to say that I've never been to this restaurant before, but the menu definitely sounds delicious! I've st come back from a small vacation and I had the best New Orleans food experience, I can't wait to make Sitar a visit and see which one is better!

Hi there, I found your

By s9z1tmy
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I really was into indian

By iuliancezar
I really was into indian food a few years ago but all the spices that i used to eat weren't good for my not so oriental stomach. I recently bought a soft serve machine and i changed my food habits but i must confess that from time to time i go to eat dinner at an indian restaurant.

I am completely new Indian

By ralet
I am completely new Indian cuisine, and I've only once tried the hallelujah diet. All I know is that there's curry involved. What is the best way to get introduced to it with a representative sampling? Are there single dishes that will give me a good idea whether I will like the genre as a whole?

It's good people are finally

By ralet
It's good people are finally becoming aware of how overcooking food can lead to digestion problems. I, personally, would rather eat just from Albritton Fruit than spend all my money on expensive treatments, just because I wouldn't pay attention to nutrition factors.

The sound of the sitar is

By ralet
The sound of the sitar is just magical...I love looking at musical instruments on and listening to sitar music online. I was wondering who could it be...and then I read it is none other than the young Ustad Rais Khan.

Indian Food

By crazysony
I appreciate a lot this great and quality article! Indian food is one of my favorites and I use to order some almost every day from Pick On Us. Indians add some great flavors to their recipes and this is what makes the food tasty.

Nothing quite like the

By ralet
Nothing quite like the psychedelic sound of the sitar to go along with some delicious indian specialties, and maybe some desert like to make for the perfect night out. I now know where I'm taking my wife out to eat next.

Thanks for your great post.

By smith98
Thanks for your great post. I have read your post completely and acquire more knowledge from this article. Thanks for your useful post

I remember that when i was

By ralet
I remember that when i was little my mom used to give away instead of candy homemade sauces or spices. You can see on Trinidad Scorpion hot sauce that there are plenty of sauces that can instantly change a dish and i bet that your guests will feel amazing eating something that they haven't eaten before.

I know it is not very often

By ralet
I know it is not very often that Indian cuisine involves coffee, but I am pretty sure I could never go without one. Interesting article and a nice parallel between music and that specialty. I guess I had a similar experience with and I guess if I had to compare it with a genre I'd go with some classic old jazz.

My friend started a small

By ralet
My friend started a small business in the dinner industry and I was wondering what supplier for heavy machinery for the kitchen everybody was using? I am especially interested in a soft serve machine. The dinner is at a crossroads between 2 suburbs and there are a lot of children here.

indian food

By crazysony
I like Indian food a lot as it is very tasty. I use to cook Indian recipes twice a week and I invite my friends to taste it together with a delicious aroma coffee with syrups from When I don't have enough time to cook, we are going to an Indian restaurant and we are eating there our favorite meals.

I love indian music and

By ralet
I love indian music and sitar music, I first read about this duo on Haynes Lubrifilm. My favorites are the Mango or the Chobani bite Fig with orange zest. Yum! Also if you like their facebook page they have giveaways. I just won a case of their tubes for my kids this week.

There are some beautiful

By ralet
There are some beautiful themed restaurants where there's only one instrument that plays, such as an Alembic bass. Also, a good dinner can be enjoyed at the sounds of piano and violin, and maybe playing jazz in the background.