Lemon Saddam Rice

The lemon saddam rice is buttery and lemony, with a contrasting texture of toasted cashews and fried lentils. (Courtesy of Navaratna / March 13, 2014)

Navaratna could be considered a hidden gem, even though it's on busy Atlantic Street in downtown Stamford. The vegetarian, kosher, Indian restaurant is named after the seven ancient sacred gems – coral, ruby, pearl, diamond, emerald, sapphires, yellow and blue, hessonite and cat's eye. And after closing briefly for a paint and polish, this casual, moderately priced place is sparkling.

Navaratna smells wonderful: an ineffable blend of toasted spices, cumin, coriander, cardamom and turmeric. The menu represents all the regions of India's vast subcontinent, and draws many of its people for chaat wala, Mumbai street snacks, and homey curries, breads and rice dishes. The vast choices made us want to order up.

Vada is a light-textured, cumin-flecked "doughnut" made from raw, soaked lentils puréed into dough and fried. Navaratna offers it with a choice of sauces, spicy sambar, soothing yogurt, or medu vada, a coconut-mint chutney sprinkled with cardamom seeds.

Dahi aldo poori, mini puffed fried breads topped with chickpeas, potatoes, mint, yogurt and tamarind, is crisp, light and mild. Cauliflower goes green in gobi malligai, fried in a light, mint-and-cilantro-batter.

Dosa masala is a dramatically large crêpe . It's rolled and filled with mashed potatoes spiced with cumin, mustard seeds, turmeric and green chiles. Tear pieces from the dosa, which is made from rice and lentils, scoop up the seasoned potatoes, and dunk it into bowls of minty coconut chutney or soupy, spicy sambar.

Curries are listed under North or South. From the South, ennai kathrikai is meltingly soft baby eggplant in sweet-savory tamarind, peanut and sesame sauce, studded with dried red peppers pods. With it, we tried two breads, a rich, ghee-layered bread, veechu pratha, and a thinner and plainer wheat bread, chapathi. Korma is a northern curry, a mild and creamy saffron-colored almond sauce.

The curries come with fragrant basmati rice. Each grain is distinct. But I highly suggest you order the lemon saddam rice. It's buttery and lemony, with a contrasting texture of toasted cashews and fried lentils.

Indo-Chinese cooking is included at Navaratna. This cuisine grew from a community of Chinese in Calcutta. Chinese ingredients and techniques were adapted to Indian tastes and became so popular, it spread throughout India. Vegetable Manchurian are dumplings made from chopped steamed vegetables and rice. They're fried and dressed in a bright red, sweet- and-sour sauce redolent of garlic and ginger and crunchy with fresh scallions.

Navaratna serves alcohol. But the alcohol-free sweet, fruity mango lassi and the refreshing mint cooler (which does not have yogurt) are much more delicious.

To the American palate, Indian deserts, made of noodles, carrots, or cheese are a hard sell. But all can agree on mango, pineapple or coconut ice cream.

Navaratna is at 133 Atlantic St., Stamford. Hours are Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Information: 203-348-1070 and http://www.navaratnact.com.