Dancing Ganesha: Not Exactly Divine

I had high hopes for Dancing Ganesha, the new upscale Indian restaurant that replaced Willie’s Wine Bar on Harmon. When I spoke to one of the owners before the restaurant opened, he told me of ambitious plans to make it a "four-star" Indian restaurant with elements of French haute cuisine. I suggested a couple of local food consultants who specialize in south Asian cuisine, but it doesn’t look like anything came of my suggestion.

The idea of creating an upscale Indian restaurant, with a more stylish ambience, better service and a more sophisticated menu than the usual curry joint really sounds like a great idea – it’s high time that more of our local ethnic eateries break out of the low-end dining ghetto. It may take a while for local diners to get used to the idea that Indian, Chinese or Vietnamese restaurants should be the same prices as Lucia’s or Heidi’s Cafe or Spoonriver, if they provide cuisine, ambience and amenities of comparable quality. But there is no reason why the Twin Cities can’t support the kinds of Indian fine dining restaurants that you can find in New York or San Francisco.

Unfortunately, while Dancing Ganesha’s prices are considerably higher than any other Indian restaurant in the Twin Cities, they don’t offer the level of ambience, service or gastronomic sophistication that would justify those prices. There are a few unusual dishes on the menu, such as an appetizer of sev batata puri – a puffy chaat-style appetizer of puri topped with potatoes, chickpeas, fresh coriander and tamarind chutney ($8.99), and a Maine lobster Thermidor ($29.99), but for the most part, the menu is made up of the standard currry house fare: tandoori chicken, saag paneer, mostly priced $2-$3 higher than comparable dishes at the nearby Bombay Bistro.

The ambience seemed to have changed little since the Willie’s era,
except for the addition of a statue of a dancing Ganesha, the Hindu god
of success.

As for the food, my dining experience last night was pretty disappointing. I couldn’t detect anything in Carol’s entree, a mushroom curry, that would justify a price of $18 for a dish that would cost $10-$12 elsewhere. My non-veg thali ($19), was equally ordinary – a lamb curry of dry chunks of meat; an unidentified generic chicken curry, dal (lentils), and a dish of seasoned green beans, plus raita and a very ordinary rice pudding. I am not sure what was in the saffron naan ($3.99), but it didn’t look or taste like saffron.

But the biggest problem was the service. According to one of the servers, the restaurant has been open for over a month, but service seemed chaotic, and our original server was basically inattentive, clueless, unable to answer basic questions about the menu. A second waiter, who appeared to be from India, was more helpful, but also unable to provide much detail. Neither seemed to have much training in the finer points of service.

If Dancing Ganesha wants to succeed, they are going to have to either (1) scale back their prices, or (2) make a serious effort to upgrade their service and the sophistication of their menu. Maybe the best approach would be to start with (1) and work on (2).The same company that owns Dancing Ganesha also owns the all-vegetarian Nala Pak in Columbia Heights, which offers a good selection of North and South Indian dishes at more reasonable prices.

My dining experience was pretty disappointing, but I am going to go back and give Dancing Ganesha another try sometime soon. There were several parties of Indian customers at the restaurant last night, who seemed to have enjoyed their visit – perhaps they ordered more wisely than we did.