by Len Lear
Ten years ago my wife and I fell in love with Shivnanda, an Indian restaurant at 114 Chestnut St., because of its wonderful, authentic Indian cuisine and its charming owner/chef, Mohan Parmar. We discovered that Parmar was basically a poster boy for the opportunities this country has to offer to diligent, industrious immigrants who basically work 24/7 in their drive to provide a good life for their children.
At about the same time Parmar, now 46, opened another Indian restaurant, Lovash (“thin bread”), at 236 South St., which had previously been home to a restaurant called Mirchi. Shortly thereafter, Shivnanda closed its doors after five years on Chestnut Street. In 2002 Parmar also opened Lucky’s, a Mexican restaurant, right across the street from Lovash. Lucky’s closed last year.
Lovash, however, a BYOB, has been so successful that six months ago Parmar bought the next door property, previously a clothing store called Studio 6, and after a dazzling renovation that included exposed brick walls, recessed lighting, comfortable banquettes, tile floors, fresh flowers and magnificent stained glass chandeliers, has now doubled the size of Lovash.
About 50 percent of the business at Lovash consists of home delivery to center city residents and businesses. Another 10 percent is takeout. During our visit last month, we met a couple, Ron Rubin and Marian Magee, who live just one block away. “We have been coming here and getting takeout on a regular basis ever since they opened,” said Magee. “We love the food, the prices are very reasonable, and Mr. Parmar is a wonderful man.”
Judging by the food blogs, many local diners share Magee’s opinion. “Lovash is one of the best,” wrote a blogger on zagat.com. “The service was great, the workers were very kind, and the food was delicious…” A woman who identified herself as an American-born Indian on philadelphia.citysearch.com wrote, “We are a foodie family and love the light and healthy touch of Indian food at Lovash and the sensually blended environment…” A blogger on yelp.com, which generally has more comments than any other food Web site, wrote, “This place has great Indian food. The best deal is their lunch specials. You get a protein, delicious side of seasoned chickpeas, rice and naan for about 8 bucks…”
Parmar is a master chef who graduated from the most prestigious culinary school in India, their equivalent of the Culinary Institute of America. He came to America 28 years ago after being recruited by Siva, an Indian restaurant then at Front and Chestnut Streets in Old City. Parmar is the youngest of eight children whose father worked for the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi for 36 years.
After coming to the Philadelphia area, Parmar met a young Indian woman named Yogita. They discovered that they had both graduated from the same high school in New Delhi. (Remember, India is a country with more than one billion people. Was this a coincidence, or what?) Eighteen years ago the couple married at a Hare Krishna temple on Allens Lane in West Mt. Airy.
In addition to their regular menu, Lovash usually offers remarkable bargains on certain holidays. For example, on the recent New Year’s Eve, celebrants could have a three-course meal for just $19.95 per person. And on Valentine’s Day next Monday, a full-course meal is just $29 per person, and each couple will receive a $20 gift certificate as well.
All chutneys, breads and sauces are homemade. Indian breads are one of the great culinary creations in the world, and they don’t get any better than at Lovash. The onion kulcha ($3) and garlic bread with cheese ($3) are crisp and dense, with a great texture and a world of complementary flavors.
You can’t go wrong with anything at Lovash, but two dishes we loved were one of several vegetarian choices, Maharaza Kofta: Indian cheese stuffed with vegetables, cashew nuts, raisins, herbs, spices and tomato sauce ($13.95); and Kunju Pappas: shrimp, Goan-style, with chipotle sauce and earthy, well-calibrated Southern Indian spices ($16.95). And two things every diner should try are the amazing Indian spiced iced tea ($2) and the ambrosial dessert, Gulab Jamun, cheese balls served in rich syrup with mango chunks, crispy chick pea flour and sweet cardamom ($4). We’ve had Gulab Jamun at many Indian restaurants over the years, but this is the best.
For many years Parmar has also owned a busy food cart at 37th and Spruce Streets on the University of Pennsylvania campus. It serves Mexican food. And Parmar is currently working on an Indian foods cookbook that he hopes to publish later this year. For more information, call 215-925-3881 or visit www.lovashrestaurant.com