Gary Purewal and his traditional clay oven have come to give Oak Harbor a taste of the country where he was born. How is it? The answer’s in the name.
Purewal opened Harbor View Tasty India on Pioneer Way Dec. 28 and so far the reception has been overwhelmingly positive, he said.
“People have been craving for Indian food here,” Purewal said.
The restaurant, which sports large windows overlooking the harbor, features cuisine from the Punjab region in northern India made by his five-person kitchen staff. Use of a clay oven called tandoor is a staple of the region, he said. It is especially used to make naan, a flat bread that commonly accompanies Indian entrees.
Purewal pointed out the tandoor oven in the kitchen and called it the “jewel” of his restaurant. Inside, hot briquettes burned on the bottom and a piece of naan hung on the side against the clay wall.
Purewal has owned Indian restaurants for the past eight years and has two Tasty India locations in Seattle and one in Ellensburg. As he considered moving to Oak Harbor, he thought well-traveled Navy sailors would likely have a taste for the food. And although there isn’t a large population of people of Indian descent on the island, he said he’s noticed an increase in Indian food’s popularity in the U.S.
To encourage people who haven’t tried Punjabi cuisine before, he plans to open a buffet on Jan. 16. That date is also expected to mark the opening of the full bar.
For Oak Harbor resident Chris Mann, the smell was enough for him to decide to venture inside. He’d been next door at the Oak Harbor Tavern and saw someone eating Tasty India’s food.
“It smelled really good and they said it was really good, so I decided to come try it,” Mann said as he waited for his to-go order. “I’ve never had Indian before, so it’s exciting to try something different.”
The basis for most of the entrees is a combination of turmeric, coriander, cumin, cinnamon and black and green cardamom — which makes garam masala. This can be added with curry and mixed with vegetables or made into the popular Indian butter sauce.
Purewal has been in the restaurant business for 18 years, but the first 10 were spent owning and managing pizza and fast-food locations. He came to the U.S. in 2001 to get his master’s degree in business, and later he and his wife Pooja settled in Seattle. Now, he said, they are looking to move to Whidbey.
Years ago, he ran a restaurant in Port Townsend, and he often traveled to Whidbey and appreciated its beauty. He also likes that there is a small-town atmosphere so he and the other staff members can get to know the customers.
Waiter Jimmy Vashisht seemed to particularly enjoy this aspect. He joked with small children as he walked by, asked sailors how long they’d been at the base and tried to get a sense of people’s taste so he could make suggestions.
Although it’s still very early on, Purewal has absolute confidence in his newest enterprise.
“This is going to be a very successful location,” he said.