"Namaste." The yoga-associated greeting (translated approximately as "the spirit in me salutes the spirit in you") seems an appropriate name for North Baltimore's newest Indian restaurant. From the staff's warm greetings as you enter to their sincere thank-you's as you leave later with a satisfied belly and a handful of candied fennel seeds, the restaurant embodies graciousness, making it a welcome addition to the Cold Spring Lane corridor.
Located in the former Loco Hombre space, Namaste (413 W. Cold Spring Lane,  889-2233, namastebaltimore.com) offers familiar, moderately-priced Indian food in a casual, albeit white tablecloth setting. Less special-occasion than the Ambassador, its closest competitor, Namaste could be your go-to if you live in the neighborhood and have a craving for chicken tikka masala, are looking for a restaurant that will please vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, or just want a restaurant close enough to walk to on a gorgeous summer evening.
The food is respectable, though not extraordinary, but the service sets the standard other restaurants could do well to follow. "I can always tell when someone likes their job," explained Wendy, our server, who clearly likes hers. Wendy and other staff members took pains not to interrupt ongoing conversations at the table, filled and re-filled water glasses frequently, and addressed the diners at our table as "ma'am" and "sir." The latter may seem too formal (and I don't really think of myself as a "ma'am"), but the motivation here is respect for customers. And really, "ma'am" is preferable to the ubiquitous "guys" or even worse, "ladies." Dishes were delivered to the table on a rolling cart, and when our meal was over and leftovers remained, Wendy brought boxes to the table, only to pause when she realized one diner was still eating. The boxes were returned (and the dishes remained on the table) until we were all finished. She even brought an extra serving of rice, so that there would be enough to go home with the leftovers. Throughout the evening, wait staff greeted a small coterie of regulars and made other customers feel like they might like to become one.
If service will make you want to return to Namaste, experience will help you choose carefully from the menu. I wouldn't order the lasuni gobi ($6.99) appetizer again. The dish, described as crisp cauliflower dipped in garlic sauce, felt a little like Chinese takeout—several deep fried florets of cauliflower doused in bright red garlic chile sauce without much nuance or spice. But we fared better with the mixed grill tandoori platter ($13.99), a sampling of various tandoori preparations including chicken and fish tikka and a slow-burning seekh kebab made of ground lamb and lively spices.
Namaste's menu includes recognizable dishes like samosa and pakora, chana masala and saag paneer, biryanis, kormas, and vindaloos—both meat and seafood-based, as well as vegetarian. The menu also offers a small portion of Nepali dishes including momo (dumplings). There's a full bar, and the beer selection includes a nice selection of bottled domestic microbrews (including Dogfish Head's Namaste—natch) and Indian beers like Taj Mahal and Kingfisher.
Chicken tikka masala ($15.99), a perennial favorite, seems like it has become the yardstick to measure a kitchen's skill. Namaste's is a solid interpretation with a mild kick that cuts through the unctuous creaminess. Lamb khaara masala ($18.99) sounds similar to the ear, but is far different on the tongue. All dry, fragrant spice with no sauce, the lamb is tender and lean and mixed together with peppers and onions.
When ordering each dish we were asked if we'd like the food prepared mild, medium, or very spicy. We all opted for medium, but learned quickly that medium varies from dish to dish. The shrimp vindaloo ($18.99)—fat shrimp and potatoes napped in a complex sauce—was simply on fire. Thank goodness for naan ($2.99), rice, and Kleenex. The heat hadn't tempered the following day when I sampled leftovers, but I devoured it regardless. It was my favorite dish of the evening, and much more impressive than the Nepali Khasi Ko Masu ($17.99), a goat curry that was mostly bones and a bit of gristle.
Upon our arrival at Namaste, the dining room was nearly empty, and the proprietor asked if we might want to sit at the booth in the window—both to be able to spread out and, and, he added frankly, to maybe entice more business allowing passersby to observe a group of friends enjoying dinner. At the end of the meal, he treated us to a milky, pistachio studded rice pudding as thanks for our flexibility. It wasn't necessary, but it was thoughtful and appreciated. Namaste indeed.