by Susan Hamilton & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & love Indian food. It incorporates a riot of sensory stimulation. I lappreciate how this vibrant cuisine utilizes spices -- sometimes lintensely so -- and presents a wide range of flavors, especially with its unusual treatment of meats and vegetables. When I traveled in India years ago, I relished foods that were specific to various regions of the subcontinent. Each area offers its own specialties: Kashmir is known for its meat and chickpeas (garbanzos), Delhi for its tandoori food, Bombay for pork, Bengal for fish and sweet desserts, and Madras for vegetarian dishes made with tamarind, semolina and coconut.
Having dined at the handful of Indian restaurants in the Inland Northwest, I was eager to sample what the newer Bombay Palace had to offer. I'd heard good things about its food, and I knew that it specialized in Punjabi dishes from northern India, where the robust climate has contributed to a cuisine of full-bodied masalas (spices) and richly flavorful curries. The striking feature of Punjabi cuisine is its lavish use of butter, cream and cheese -- mainly in sauces. Tandoori specialties baked in brick-clay ovens give smoky aromas to meats and breads. Punjabi lassis (rich, yogurt drinks) are well-known antidotes for the spicy food.
Though Bombay Palace's lunch buffet is popular -- with four appetizers, three meat dishes and two vegetable dishes that change daily, all for a mere $7 per person -- my family and I decided to try dinner at this restaurant that's been open for a little more than a year downtown. We began with the samosa chat appetizer ($4.50), which our young waiter recommended. I was familiar with the fried, triangular pastries filled with vegetables and/or meat sold by roadside vendors throughout India. Bombay Palace's version was a dish of cooked garbanzo beans in a savory, thick sauce and drizzled with yogurt and tamarind sauce. It was more than enough for the three of us. We scooped up the samosa chat with pappadam flat bread (made with lentil flour) and the accompanying mint salsa and bittersweet tamarind sauce that precede all Bombay Palace's dinner entrees.
My daughter ordered the tandoori mixed grill ($13). It arrived at our table sizzling on a wooden and iron platter, with the chicken, prawns and lamb colored bright red from baking in the white-hot heat of the tandoori oven. The smoky flavor imparted from the oven added to the spicy, succulent meats and veggies in this dish. The chicken coconut curry ($9.50) I decided on was a very successful presentation. A lightly flavored, sweet curry sauce enfolded tender chicken with contrasting tastes of coconut and cilantro. My husband's fish tikka masala ($10.25) was a white cod fish in a creamy, rich curry of tomatoes and cream -- not too spicy, and full of flavor. We also ordered house-made, whole-wheat tandoori roti ($1.50) to accompany our meal. The puffy hollow bread was perfect for scooping up the sauces in our meals.
Next time we eat at Bombay Palace, I'd like to try the mulligatawny soup -- a spicy, lentil-based bisque with chicken or lamb -- with paneer naan, a flat bread cooked in a tandoori oven and stuffed with house-made cheese. My husband, always a fan of daal (seasoned lentil puree), wants to try the restaurant's daal mukhni and vegetables korma (saut & eacute;ed in saffron cashew curry) from the vegetarian dishes. The mango chicken and lamb vindaloo in a tomato-based curry will likely vie for my daughter's attentions.
After all the spicy food, we craved something sweet and cool for dessert, and I can never help myself when there are mango lassis to be had. Bombay Palace's version of the sweet yogurt drink did not disappoint ($2.25). My daughter, also a mango aficionado, ordered the luscious mango ice cream ($3), a blend of mangos, pistachios and almonds made onsite. My husband opted for kulfi ($3), another house-made ice cream flavored with cardamom, saffron and roasted almonds.
Service was pleasant and efficient throughout our meal. Our only disappointment at Bombay Palace was the d & eacute;cor -- or lack thereof. Rather than an exotic interior to make us feel like we had taken a trip to India, the place felt more Victorian than subcontinental, with heavy maroon curtains and booths reminiscent of the Mexican restaurant that previously occupied the space. The soft Indian sitar music playing in the background was appreciated, though, and we will definitely make a return trip to Bombay Palace to satisfy our cravings for Indian cuisine, which chef Parghat Singh does so well.