There's so much to like about Aroma that it's hard to know where to start.

Should I talk about this new Indian restaurant's soothing, intimate atmosphere? The unique touches that come from an obviously loving hand? The enthusiastic service? The wonderful food?

I think I'll start with the tent.

When my husband and I walked into Aroma on a recent weekend night, the first thing I noticed, behind a carved wooden screen, was the billowy, tentlike canopy suspended from the ceiling of this intimate little corner of a Draper strip mall.

Inside the canopy is a low table surrounded by plump cushions. Our server told us that the magical little spot can be reserved, even as little as an hour in advance, for an extra-special dining experience.

But the regular seats at Aroma are special, too. The dining room is lovely, with curry-colored walls, Indian art marching down one side of the narrow space, and three huge, arch-topped mirrors on the other side, flanked by gauzy apricot-colored curtains.

Combine that with the amber glow of the lighting, some of it supplied by four spectacular crystal chandeliers, and you've got a unique space, a perfect setting for Aroma's excellent food.

Within seconds of being seated, we were served a basket of delicious, aromatic crisps, baked in Aroma's clay oven and accompanied by mango chutney. We munched on them while we looked over the menu, which includes a lot of vegetarian items, traditional Indian food and even a few beef dishes, unusual on an Indian menu but welcome news, I'm sure, to many Utahns.

We started with the "combo snacks." There was a crispy, purselike samosa filled with peas and mashed curry-spiced potatoes, plus a tender, soft-breaded patty of mixed vegetables and chickpea flour. Both were excellent, but our favorites were the similarly chickpea-breaded chicken pakora, sort of an Indian take on satay, and the onion pakora, which will remind you of softly breaded, beautifully seasoned onion rings.

For dinner, my husband had the chicken curry, same as always. I like a little more variety, but I must say this was some of the tastiest chicken curry I've had. The curry sauce, served in a deep scarlet bowl, was dark, rich and enticingly fragrant, studded with big pieces of chicken, onions, garlic and tomatoes. He scooped over some of the basmati rice that we shared.

I had the lamb coconut kurma, cooked to medium spiciness. I could have handled a higher spice level, as the medium was just a few shades above mellow, but it worked with this dish. It was a complex melange of boneless, fork-tender lamb cooked with coconut milk, shredded coconut, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, onions, cashew nuts, golden raisins and the Indian spices that gave it its deep peachy color. I had the leftovers for lunch the next day, and it was, if possible, even better.

On the side we had naan, but not just any old naan. This Indian bread, baked in a tandoor clay oven so that it's smoky and crisp-crusted, comes in a range of flavors at Aroma. We chose the delicious paneer naan, which had both herbs and house-made Indian cheese mixed into its dough.

There's a whole selection of Indian desserts, although some may or may not be in the kitchen at any one time. We asked for mango and almond kulfis (Indian ice cream), but they were not available, so we went with the traditional kulfi, as well as a dish of kheer, Indian rice pudding.

The jade-green kulfi, served sliced into frozen half-moons, was creamy and redolent with the flavors of pistachios, cashews and cardamom in a cream base. Even my husband, who thinks a dessert isn't dessert without chocolate, finished his portion while I tackled the kheer, an almond-topped, fine-textured pudding with such strongly fragrant cardamom flavors that it was like eating the essence of flowers.

Appetizers $4.99-$14.99, bread $1.99-$3.99, soup $4.99-$6.99, entrees $10.99-$24.99, Indian drinks $2.99-$4.99, dessert $3.99-$4.99.

Aroma

Rating: *** 1/2

Where: 715 E. 12300 South, Draper

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 5-9 p.m. Closed Sunday

Payment: Major credit cards accepted

Phone: 576-0707

Wheelchair access: Easy

Also: The staff promises lunchtime hours soon


Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News.

E-mail: [email protected]