Open just little more than a year, OM Indian Fusion Cuisine on the east side of Madison has quickly risen to the top of the list in a capital city already known for its stellar Indian restaurants.
The restaurant’s name and logo plays homage to Om, a sacred sound and a spiritual icon in Hindu religion. The Om symbol, with its three curves, semicircle, and dot, is expertly woven into OM Indian Fusion Cuisine’s logo. Owners Nancy and Sumanth Viswanathan worked the traditional Om symbol’s curves instead into the face of Ganesh, the elephant god, an important symbol in Sumanth’s family heritage in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
“We wanted to honor our blended family’s Indian heritage—the fusion of America and India,” says Nancy, who met Sumanth in college in Minneapolis. The couple married and dreamed of opening a restaurant for years, but when they befriended Dilli Shankar, a highly skilled culinary professional from Chennai, India, they knew it was an auspicious sign. In 2016, the trio opened OM Indian Fusion Cuisine at 3579 E. Washington Avenue at the intersection of Stoughton Road. Ever since, they’ve been getting rave reviews for their southern Indian dishes, Indo-Chinese food, and Tandoori specials.
Running a restaurant seems like a natural choice for Nancy, a born leader and organizer who was eager to build a business. An American military veteran who spent 10 years in the Army, she was deployed to Iraq as a logistics manager for an aviation brigade. She’s been in the hospitality business for more than 15 years and holds a Masters of Business Administration in human resource management and a bachelor’s degree in business management. She was born in California, but raised in the Midwest.
Sumanth was born and raised in Ooty in Tamil Nadu, and moved to the United States in 2010. With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer applications and information technology, he continues to work full-time as a project manager at American Family Insurance in Madison, helping Nancy run the restaurant in the evenings and on weekends.
Running the kitchen is Executive Chef Dilli, who rounds out the trio of highly educated restauranteurs. With an American bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, he also trained in India for culinary arts and food and beverage management. Today, he is highly recognized by Madison chefs for his comprehensive knowledge of international cuisine and innovative approaches to creating unique dishes.
One of his favorite foods to prepare is the Family Dosa, a signature dish of OM Indian Fusion Cuisine fondly known as the Dilli Dosa on the menu. Measuring nearly four feet in length, the Family Dosa is a large plain dosa, a type of Indian pancake, made from a fermented batter. Think of it as a big crispy rice and lentil crepe. Other dosas on the menu are filled with ground lamb or chicken, or coconut-based sauce and Indian spices. All are served with assorted chutneys and sambar, a hot and spicy lentil soup with mixed vegetables.
The menu at OM Indian Fusion Cuisine is extensive, with pages of appetizers, soups and salads, breads, Indo-Chinese fare, Tandoori specials, vegetarian entrees, southern Indian dishes, biryani and rice specialties, and several fusion dishes all curiously Italian inspired. That’s because Chef Shankar spent considerable time training as a chef in Italy. OM Indian Fusion may be the only Indian restaurant in Wisconsin where you can get the best Florentine sauce outside Florence, Italy.
One of the most popular dishes, and the one dish that has perhaps put OM Indian Fusion on the map, is actually an appetizer: the Mirchi Bajji. Chef Shankar stuffs three crispy green chilies with seasoned onions, then fries them golden brown in a chickpea batter and serves it with mint and tamarind chutneys. The dish is ordered by nearly everyone who visits the restaurant.
One of Nancy’s favorite dishes is the Kadai Paneer, a northern Indian dish featuring sautéed paneer, capsicum, tomato, onion, and spices. “It’s classic Indian fare, and Chef Shankar does it better than anyone,” Nancy says.
Open for lunch and dinner every day except Tuesday, OM Indian Fusion Cuisine features a generous lunch buffet and extensive dinner menu in a beautifully designed and decorated, sage-colored interior that is both modern and family friendly. Customers may choose to sit at the chef’s table, a counter with high stools facing an open kitchen and attended to by Chef Shankar. Both the chef’s table and bar feature one-of-a-kind, backlit, green, grass-filled panels at foot level, making customers feel as if they might be sitting in an Indian forest while enjoying a martini.
The restaurant features separate meeting spaces and a sitting area with a fireplace, games, and books for kids. Nancy recently completed a separate Bollywood Theater room, which she hopes will soon start showing weekly Bollywood films for fun.
“It’s very cool to think that this is something we built from scratch,” says Nancy. “It makes me really proud, and the fact that our customers really enjoy our food and service and keep coming back is just the icing on the cake.”
Jeanne Carpenter is a cheese geek and food writer living in Oregon, Wisconsin.