Dining Out: Stunning India's returns and earns pair of 10s

By TERRA WALTERS, For The Capital
Published 06/17/10

For those of us who are fans of their exceptional food, the wait for their reopening (a fire back in the winter spurred them to undergo a complete renovation) seemed interminable. It took about three months before India's was set to unveil their stunning new look, but every bit of the time and money spent has paid big dividends.

The new decor manages to meld lush elegance with casual comfort. The chairs are comfy and pretty, the tables spacious and the accent of Indian decorative art provides authenticity as well as beauty. Now, on a scale of 1 to 10, we can hold up our 10 cards for the ambiance as well as for the food.

And speaking of the food, it's still as tasty as ever. Having waited so long to enjoy it again, there was not even a slight nod to prudence as we eschewed paring down and just selected whatever sounded good. Throwing caution to the winds, we proceeded to order 50 percent of the entire appetizer menu: Channa Chaat, Samosas, Jheenga Pakoras and Onion Bhajia!

That much food, particularly with some of it spicy, requires a beverage for backup. Frequently we have beer with Indian food (India's also offers a full bar and non-alcoholic drinks that range from sodas to those yummy Indian yogurt drinks called Lassi), but this evening we decided to have wine.

Usually, choosing a wine just because of its name is every bit as successful as picking a horse in a race just because you like the outfit the jockey is wearing. This time, however, a California sauvignon blanc called Sea Glass ($24) turned out to be a most felicitous choice. Not only a lovely name, but a light yet definitive fruitiness that partnered well with every dish.

India's puts out the figurative welcome mat before you even order. As soon as you are seated, some tasty nibbles arrive at your table. Crunchy lentil crackers (these are addictively scrumptious) are served with three dipping sauces whose primary ingredients are tamarind, mango and coriander, respectively.

We had just polished them off when the appetizers arrived.

First were the Samosas ($6), a crisp pastry filled with spiced vegetables or minced lamb. We ordered the lamb and appreciated the subtle flavoring but enjoyed it even more with some of the tamarind dipping sauce added.

The Channa Chaat ($5) was a big hit at our table. Comprised of a tangy mixture predominantly of chickpeas with additions of potatoes and onions, this dish is tossed with tamarind sauce and finished with sprinkles of black Indian salt.

The Channa Chaat provides you with an excellent excuse for ordering some Indian bread. Even though we love the kulcha and the paratha, it's the naan that we always come back to. This time we ordered both the regular ($2) and the garlic naan ($3). A real treat all by itself, but super for sopping up all the delicious sauces.

The long-time favorite Jheenga Pakoras ($9) seemed tastier than ever and were the first to disappear from the table. Large, fresh shrimp are marinated in herbed sour cream, lightly battered, and fried flawlessly. We like the chicken ones too (Murgh Pakoras for $8), but the shrimp pakoras are really special.

Save the best for last. The Onion Bhajia ($7) is so savory and delectable that it's always a mouth-watering treat. As one member of our party proclaimed, "This is better than any Bloomin' Onion I've ever tasted." These onions, thinly sliced and marinated in spicy yogurt with gram flour, receive some more of the skilled battering and frying. Delicious.

You would wonder that we still had room for our entrees, but one look at them quickly restored any flagging appetites we might have experienced.

Two diners in our group ordered Rogan Josh ($19) and relished the tender chunks of lamb cooked in an incredible sauce that is just the right combination of yogurt, almonds, onions, several spices and cream. The sauce was excellent over the gently scented Basmati rice, too.

The bold seasoning of the Chicken Tikka Masala ($18) put that dish over the top in terms of enjoyment as well. Tender boneless chicken was first broiled in the tandoor oven and then cooked in onion, garlic, tomato and selected spices. The same top-quality chicken made another appearance in the Chicken Vindaloo ($18), a classic preparation with potatoes and a thick hot curry sauce.

Just one winner after another.

The final member of our party was pleased with the Lamb Tikka masala ($19), which involved marinated lamb being broiled in the tandoor oven and then mixed with green peppers, onions and tomato puree for further cooking. This sauce also was tasty over the rice.

Having saved some of our entrees for lunch the next day, we decided on a couple of desserts to pass around. One of them, the Kulfi Ice Cream ($6) is a traditional Indian specialty made from thickened milk cooked for a long time and then frozen quickly. Predominant flavors are of almond, pistachio and rose water.

Our other sweet fix came in the form of Gulab Jaman ($6), light pastries made from honey and served in yummy syrup. If you're wondering whether to have dessert at India's, wonder no longer. Have it.

If you haven't been to India's since their May 15 re-opening, be sure to stop by and welcome them back to the local restaurant scene. Dinner there is always a special event, but lovers of buffets will enjoy their buffet lunch ($12) served weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. It's exceptional value for the money and it allows novices to learn more about Indian cuisine while allowing fans of Indian food to sample many of their favorites.

Welcome back, India's. We missed you.