I LOVE all kinds of food. So when I treated DJ Snugglemonster to Kabab House in Gainesville (one of my all-time favorites), he immediately wanted to take me to The Fifth Element to see if it measured up. The Fifth Element is authentic Indian food, located with a large smattering of other ethnic cuisines on Old Baymeadows Road. It’s a large restaurant, and frequented by both Indian-American folk and Other-American folk (always a good sign if it can manage to draw in both).
When you walk into Fifth Element, you are immediately enveloped in a cloud of incense as you face their shrine and offerings in the vestibule of the restaurant. Authentic, yes, but a little offputting too (to me, it’s like walking into a cloud of cigarette smoke, but perhaps its just more noxious to me). We walked in and were greeted with two adolescent children (clearly family members of the owners) chasing each other around the restaurant, yelling, and crying. This continued past our table for some time after we were seated and their route included the entire restaurant. Not very welcoming to your customers, but it at least goes to show that this truly is a family-run, legitimate restaurant.
The service was pretty impressive though – my water glass was never empty, and food was taken away and brought within a good time frame. When you are seated, you are served a magical crispy waiver that melts in your mouth and a set of various sauces/chutnies. The bread is called Papadum (and apparently has links to female empowerment? See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papadum#Ingredients_and_preparation). It starts VERY crispy and then when you put it in your mouth, it melts to the point of almost disappearing – magical to say the least. The sauces it was served with are all different – one is tangy/sweet/smoky (like a thin BBQ sauce almost), one was a spicy thin green sauce, and one appeared to be a chopped vegetable of some kind in a semi-spicy red sauce. Try them all though!
The menu is large – with everything from chicken to lamb and goat. They also include an expansive Tandoor and Southern Indian sections of the menu, and lots of bread and rice dishes. Here’s the thing – I know Chicken Tikka Masala is the Indian version of cream cheese in sushi (the Americanized, baby palette, introductory dish), but it is how I measure Indian food in restaurants against others. If you screw up Chicken Tikka Masala, there’s a SERIOUS issue. I ordered the Chicken Tikka and DJ Snugglemonster ordered the Lamb Tikka Masala (we are both lamb fiends but I was worried it might be too strong of a flavor for the dish…plus, I could always just sample some of his). We also ordered the Butter Naan, because I am obsessed with Naan. Kabab House in Gainesville had an addictive cheese naan, so it’s hard to beat that, but since there was no cheese naan on the Fifth Element’s menu and I’ve had horrible Garlic Naan before, we decided to go plain.
The Chicken Tikka Masala was good – my version of comfort food really. The sauce was super rich and spicy (but not heat-spicy). I’m used to a touch more cream in my CTM, and I think this CTM could’ve benefited from it to smooth everything out, but the CTM was also very rich as it was, so more cream may have been overboard. The Lamb that DJ Snugglemonster had in his was tender and flavorful. I don’t think it was too overpowering, but actually elevated the dish a bit. The naan was AMAZING. I’m sure you’re asking yourself, it’s just plain bread. But it’s not. It’s leavened bread (so you get crispy parts and soft parts), cooked in the tandoor so you get some burnt bits too, with melted butter over it. Deadly combination of warm fluffy bread and melted butter. Plus, there’s nothing better than dipping your butter naan into the CTM sauce to soak up all that extra goodness (you don’t waste a drop of that stuff). The CTM comes with basmati rice, which I always find boring but DJSM loves. And if you aren’t a bread person, the rice serves as a great vessel to soak up all the extra CTM sauce too. Although the dish the CTM comes in looks small, there is no way that you (or even a growing boy like DJSM) can finish it. Especially with the basmati rice and the naan. It’s just a filling, rich dish (don’t ever look up the calorie count – it’s for your own good, promise). I’ve had better CTM before, but this was nothing to sneer at. Next time, one of their tandoori lamb dishes/kebabs will be ordered for sure.
One quirky thing about Fifth Element meals – you get complimentary mango icecream at the end. Talk about speaking to the kids in all of us – soft serve icecream, a neon orange color, served in a kiddie cake cone. What more could the five year old in you ask for? I will say that the mango flavor didn’t really come through – it tasted more like vanilla icecream – and that color is nowhere near natural. But hey, free icecream is nothing to complain about.
DJSM laughed at me the whole time, but I have to note that there was a tv set to an Indian television network playing Indian music videos. I was mesmerized! DJSM thought it would be all Bollywood-style videos, but they weren’t! Some were better produced than the American ones you are used to – super dramatic, great lighting and camera angles, good styling, great plot. Amazing. And then some were confusing (like watching Latin Telenovelas with no subtitles) and some were indeed Bollywood themed. It was definitely dinner with entertainment for me. I need to find that channel myself so I can indulge at home. I know, I know, not relevant to the review, but…isn’t it? It’s part of the ambiance (and it will distract you from the bratty kids running around).