The samosa chaat ($9) is the star dish at Desi, a very recently opened “contemporary, casual” Indian restaurant located just outside downtown Campbell. The potato-filled pastry is smothered in chana masala, chutney verde and a turnip salsa, and yet each individual flavor remains intact. When assembled on a fork, the combination becomes an amplified version of comfort food.

Stewed in a spicy tomato sauce, the chickpeas are slightly charred, tender and creamy. The green chutney delivers just the right amount of tang, which lingers on the tongue. Under these various sauces, the samosa, surprisingly, stays crisp around the edges. We could have eaten two orders of it with a pile of naan and then happily called it a night.

But we went on to try two sets of sample platters: one for carnivores ($21) and a second for vegetarians ($20). Items like a verde cutlet and a basil paneer tikka are reinvented or taken out of their familiar contexts—not unlike the space Desi occupies.

Located in an older strip, its concrete exterior belies the modern renovation inside. Mixing solid shades of blue, gray and purple, the decor is sober without seeming austere or solemn. The music is ongoing but not intrusive enough to deter a conversation (thankfully, there was no sign of a television). A few bar stools fill out the picture of an all-day, informal place to eat during the lunch hour or to drop by for a drink and snacks after work.

The basil paneer tikka is an inverted saag paneer. Instead of placing small cubes of cheese in greens, a checkerboard-sized square of cheese is dusted and roasted in yogurt and spice, then stuffed with a basil sauce that’s a distant cousin of pesto.

Saag paneer is usually a dependable standby. The mix of soft, chewy cheese amid steaming greens makes for an enjoyable contrast of textures. Without the leafy greens, however, what’s left is a block of dense, bland cheese that resists invading flavors. It’s also as dry as the verde cutlet, a deep fried patty made from a mash of green peas, potatoes, broccoli and spinach. Served with a hopeless dollop of hummus on top, the cutlet would have a better life as a substitute for falafel balls in a wrap.

I was pleased that the fish was moist—and disappointed that the lamb patties weren’t. The chicken tikka was perfectly grilled, but I missed the onions, peppers and the fat wedge of lemon that usually accompanies it on a sizzling platter. As appetizers, the dishes do reveal the kitchen’s creative range. But the more complete or more fulfilling choices are arranged under the “Big Plates” section of the menu.

After the dishes arrived, the manager stopped by to see how the meal was. He asked for feedback with a sincere look in his eyes and, when prompted, talked about the concept behind the restaurant. Desi intends to fuse Indian flavors with other cuisines, with influences from Latin America and Asia. This explains the presence of tacos on the menu, and the garlic pepper prawn satay. The manager also said that they intend to make healthier versions of Indian dishes. The blackened salmon and coastal grilled fish bowls announce the idea of a California cuisine by way of India.

I’m on board for the chicken paneer or chicken tikka bowls ($18 each). Served with rice, sauces and seasonal vegetables, they’re healthy and hearty, fuel enough for an afternoon hike to a movie at the nearby Pruneyard. But I’m also hoping that the menu will continue to evolve. In addition to California bowls with wholesome greens and grains, why not experiment with lighter versions of baingan bharta (eggplant) or bhindi masala (okra)?

On the strength of that samosa chaat opener, it’s clear that someone with a tasting spoon in hand has nailed the balance of Indian sauce work and spice mixtures. With a great deal of finesse, Desi has proven that Indian cuisine can stand on its own as a delicious fusion of flavors.

501 E Campbell Ave, Campbell