G opinath V. Nair, better known as Gopi (pictured above), is a gale-force wind. He has a plan to reinvent the Indian dining experience, and New Haven—“the only location that made sense,” he says—is ground zero.
Tikkaway Fresh Indian Grill (135 Orange St, New Haven) is the name of Gopi’s recently opened, thoroughly modern takeout and casual-dining establishment. Those who have eaten at Subway or Chipotle will be familiar with the format, if not the content.
First you choose a vessel (Roti Wrap, Rice Bowl or Salad Bowl). Then pick a main ingredient or two (six options ranging from Chicken Tikka to Chana, or savory cooked chickpeas). Next add as many of six prepared vegetable elements (from a slaw-like cabbage to roasted beets) as you like. Then select a sauce (five options, with various flavors and spice levels) and finish it off with any number of fresh veggies—cucumber and diced tomato, perhaps, and spicy green chilies for risk-takers. Finally, you’ll be tempted by a glass case showing off two sides—Samosas (light, doughy pockets filled with hearty spiced potato) and Papads (thin, crispy lentil chips)—on your way to the register.
Setting sides aside, though, you won’t spend more than $7.18 (including tax) on your bright, healthful, tasty, filling entree. Then again, a samosa is only an extra $1.45 pre-tax; the papads are only $0.99.
Those price points are very deliberate. Indeed, Gopi considered every last detail, big and small, and then he considered them again and again over the four years he spent preparing to open Tikkaway. The name itself holds a surprising amount of meaning. It’s a play on “takeaway” (though there’s in-house seating too), which promises convenience while being recognizably Indian. But, once you actually know what the Hindi word tikka means—“bits” or “pieces,” both Gopi and the internet confirm—you realize that the name also asserts a “tikka way,” an approach to dining that involves choosing small amounts of a variety of ingredients to concoct something special and personal.
Gopi put at least as much thought into developing a logo that would communicate everything he wanted it to—freshness, boldness and convenience, with nods to Indian culture and identity. (That process took eight months, he says.) He sought out compostable cutlery, containers and cups because, he says while putting his hands over his heart, “Even if that costs me now, for the long run I will be at peace with myself.” But he also believes diners today are “incredibly savvy,” and that “the customer will appreciate” the environmental responsibility. To stay in tune with those customers, he works on the line and serves them himself, making sure their experience is exactly what he thinks it should be. Meanwhile, he expresses deep concern about the way his red onions are chopped.
Fortunately for hungry New Haveners, he’s not just pulling his ideas and practices out of thin air. They’re the product of a formal education in Culinary Science and fifteen years of experience managing eateries, including a celebrated 24-hour establishment in Chennai, India, and Coromandel in South Norwalk, an award-winning Indian fine dining spot. He speaks as easily and authoritatively about the economics of running a “QSR”—quick-service restaurant—as he does about the techniques used to prepare Tikkaway’s food.
It turns out, for example, that there’s an optimal temperature for frying samosas. Gopi mentioned this after I bit into one and wondered aloud how the doughy exterior could be so mild to the touch while the potato filling inside was so piping hot. He explained that the temperature of the frying oil affects how much oil is absorbed by the dough, and that the less oil that’s absorbed, the better the dough’s integrity. The exterior of that fried dough can then take on the temperature of the room without releasing the stored heat of the filling inside. Even better that anyone who eats it is consuming less oil than s/he would otherwise.
That speaks to yet another element that factored in to the deep thinking behind Tikkaway: health, including for those with specific needs or beliefs. For one thing, veggies aren’t an afterthought; they’re co-stars at least, as you can tell from the menu description above. Meanwhile, three of the five available sauces are dairy-free. Conscientiously, the menu is labeled for allergies and lifestyles, taking care of those who want to make nut-free, gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan choices.
All told, it’s a remarkable amount of service and value for an affordable, casual restaurant to provide to its customers, and Gopi’s not done yet. “I feel we have a responsibility to do more with Indian cuisine than has been done before,” he says.
If Tikkaway is the future of Indian cuisine, expect a bright future indeed.
Tikkaway Fresh Indian Grill
135 Orange St, New Haven (map)
Mon-Fri 11:30am-8pm, Sat-Sun 12-5pm
(203) 562 1299 | email@example.com
Written and photographed by Dan Mims.