At Chutney Indian Restaurant, staff goes out of its way to make diners feel welcome

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a restaurant that was this polite — from the warm greeting we received upon arrival to the caring service we got throughout the evening. We felt like cherished friends, even though we’d never been to Chutney Indian Restaurant in Columbia.

The niceties didn’t stop with the wait staff. The food at the family-run restaurant was just as sincere and inviting.

We had barely had time to unfold our white cloth napkins before a waiter delivered a basket of complimentary papadum, India’s popular thin lentil wafers, and three dips: tamarind, creamy cilantro and a zesty onion relish.

The restaurant, which will celebrate five years in November, has a small bar with wines by the bottle and glass, beer and cocktails, like a margarita and cucumber Collins. Other beverages include the yogurt drink lassi, fresh lime soda and chai tea.

The aromas wafting throughout the dining room were enticing, especially when one of the sizzling tandoori plates was delivered to a nearby table. The sprawling menu has a large selection of vegetarian dishes as well as familiar preparations like chicken tikka masala, lamb korma and shrimp curry.

We discovered a new favorite Indian appetizer during our visit, the palak chaat. This delectable mound was highlighted by fresh spinach dipped in batter, deep fried and tossed with chopped tomatoes, onions and chickpeas. A light yogurt dressing crowned the dish.

The shrimp pakora was another delicious starter. Seven large shrimp were dredged in chickpea flour and fried. The crunchy coating tasted like a delicate tempura batter.

The thick dal soup was rewarding. We hadn’t ordered it, but we were given a cup of the elixir by one of the staff, as were other tables.

The pureed lentils were perfumed with herbs and spices. I’m glad we had a chance to partake of this stellar broth.

I’m a vindaloo lover and was pleased with the restaurant’s lamb version. The presentation was thoughtful, too. A pot of tender lamb cubes and soft potatoes, awash in a rich hot curry sauce, was set atop a votive candle to keep the contents warm. Spooned over rice, the stew was terrific.

A heaping platter of chicken biryani can easily be shared. The basmati rice dish supported juicy chicken chunks and fried onions for satisfying results.

During our meal, we munched on triangles of lovely Kashmiri naan, a white-flour flatbread that was studded with raisins. It was supposed to house nuts, too, but they weren’t discernible.

We also appreciated a cooling raita made with whipped yogurt, cucumbers and carrots. It’s a great condiment for any dish, especially the spicier ones.

I am a great fan of gajar halwa (carrots cooked with nuts) for dessert, but the restaurant did not offer it the night we were there.

Instead, our waiter suggested the rasmalai. We savored the cardamom and pistachio sauce, but the sweet cheese dumplings were too gummy for us.

The kheer was a better choice. The rice pudding was flavored with nuts and saffron for a fragrant finish.

Chutney has an efficient way to pack leftovers. Our waiter rolled a cart to our table with a discreet trash receptacle for unwanted food and with a shelf for carryout boxes and bags. In a short time, our table was cleared, and our to-go food was neatly packaged.

As we left, the staff bid us genuine goodbyes. We enjoyed our meal, but the courteous manners were what left a really good taste in our mouths.

Chutney Indian Restaurant

9400 Snowden River Parkway, Columbia

410-381-3600, chutneymd.com

The vibe: The small, white-tablecloth restaurant has a soothing effect with its peach-colored walls and contemporary Indian music playing on the sound system.

You’ll fit in wearing: Casual attire

Don’t miss: The palak chaat appetizer

Best for kids: There is no children’s menu, but the restaurant’s entree dishes are large enough to share. The chicken biryani would be a good choice.

Reservations: Accepted

Handicap accessible: Yes

Price range: Appetizers, $4.95-$13.95; entrees, $13.95-$27.95.

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