Rhode Island Masala

Senior editor Jane Sigal stumbles upon a big talent in tiny Bristol: Indian-American chef Sai Viswanath.

The second time I went to DeWolf Tavern, where Indian-born chef Sai Viswanath is in the kitchen, a friend's daughter asked me to bring back some tandoori chicken. I had to say no: DeWolf Tavern, in Bristol, Rhode Island, is not that kind of Indian restaurant. Viswanath, 36, is as likely to cook with foie gras as with tamarind. Given that he was raised in a strict Brahmin household in India and didn't eat meat until cooking school (he had his first taste of beef, a prime rib, at 22, when he worked on a Carnival cruise ship), his open-minded approach is a surprise. "I have changed. My cooking style has changed," says Viswanath. "I'm not entirely Westernized, but my Hindi has an American accent." This transformation happened in earnest when Viswanath worked at New York's Union Square Cafe as a pasta cook. With chef Floyd Cardoz, he helped launch Tabla, Manhattan's first Indian-fusion restaurant. Now, at the year-old DeWolf Tavern, a renovated stone warehouse in a historic seaside town, Viswanath creates dishes like toasted corn bread hash and brussels sprouts tossed with mustard oil and crushed red pepper, and whole roasted chicken spiced with garam masala (Indian traditionalists would cut the bird into pieces and remove the skin). "I've crossed the seven seas," Viswanath says. "There's no going back."

PUBLISHED January 2006

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