George

See if you can find the elephant that’s almost hidden on Fairfield’s Main Street. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you do.

We are fortunate that Iqbul Hossan and his wife, Shawn, have opened the Dancing Elephant in our neck of the woods, a beautiful Indian restaurant and lounge featuring truly amazing cuisine. This is an extraordinarily hardworking family, originally from Bangladesh. Iqbul stays overnight in an apartment upstairs in this building that he purchased earlier this year, while Shawn drives up every afternoon from their Portland home with their two teenage children after the kids get out of school.

Shawn is in charge of the front of the house, and the kids work here, too. Iqbul does get home late Sunday for his “day off” Monday, but he spends that day purchasing fresh produce and fish, and sometimes driving to New York and back in one day to purchase spices. Yes, he is very particular about the ingredients for his creative and tasty food. So, let me tell you what I liked about that food. Well, everything, actually.

At a nearby table, Joe, who owned the very popular Joe’s Bar & Grill in Portland, and his friend Rusty, had driven up from Portland to eat here. They are great admirers of Iqbul and enjoyed the restaurant he owned in Westbrook, which burned, leading Iqbul to Fairfield. Rusty said he’s never opened the menu. He just tells Iqbul what he’d like — it was fish on this night — and Iqbul comes up with a dish for him.

Joe favors the fish tikka, and boy, so did I. It was one of my two favorite dishes — made from a fresh salmon that Iqbul selected at Portland’s fish market. Linda had insisted that I order something else, but Iqbul sent me out a generous sampling of the fish anyway, and I will always be grateful to him for that. The fish was cooked perfectly after being marinated in yogurt and spices and then grilled. It was served with fried bell peppers and onions.

Iqbul does most of the cooking and then delivers the plates to the dining room. When he exits the kitchen, you can hear some of those dishes sizzling loudly.

Linda

I am excited to have great Indian cuisine available close to home. It is clear that Iqbul is a hard worker with a vision. Even at the age of 33, he already has owned restaurants for a decade. He transformed the dining space (which took a year and a half) into an inviting atmosphere by doing the work himself.

Black tin ceilings are accented with colorful wooden shapes that hold recessed lighting. The rest of the room is taupe and cranberry set off with white woodwork. It has a clean, modern look offering booth and table seating.

You will be greeted and served by Iqbul or Shawn. And once you are seated, be prepared for some of the tastiest Indian food you are likely to find in Maine. A lengthy dinner menu includes appetizers, breads (you must order some of these) and soups. Then there are dozens of entrees — chicken and lamb specialties, as well as biryani, seafood and tandoori.

We settled on two chicken dishes and an order of the special naan bread offered that evening. Their naan is freshly made and this one was topped with garlic, onions, peppers and cilantro. It was crispy on the bottom, yet so light. Heavenly. Tamarind, mint and onion chutney come as condiments to enhance the naan, and I also ordered raita, the creamy yogurt sauce I love on all Indian food.

Iqbal offered to cook some things for us to try and little did I know what we were in for. Soon we were sampling divine dal soup — split peas, garlic, cilantro and ginger were transformed into a fantastic light soup. Next came samosa, fried potato and pea turnovers, and mixed vegetable pakora. I loved the pakora. Those crispy fritters of vegetables held the flavor of cumin with a little heat. They were full of intricate flavors and the condiments made these even more special.

We were entranced when a sizzling dish identified as tikka went by. It turns out that it is cooked in a tandoori oven. We ordered the chicken version, not to be confused by Chicken Tikka masala (that one comes with a sauce). Peppers, onions, herbs and spices create an aroma of that will have you swooning.

I’d read an online recommendation to try chicken lababdar. For that, I am grateful. Boneless chicken is marinated in yogurt, broiled and then simmered in a tomato curry sauce. It was mild in spiciness, yet flavorful. Iqbal brought out poori, a pillowy soft bread to accompany the incredible sauce. This was my favorite dish of the evening. You definitely should order at least one dish here that has a sauce.

And here’s more good news. This summer you’ll be able to eat on the back deck, overlooking the Kennebec River. But don’t wait. Go now!

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed by town in the “Best of Maine” section.