Indian beatitude

Suprabhath is simple splendor

Shalimar features a daily lunch buffet that, like most smorgasbords, suffers from a relentless steam-table drubbing. Aside from taking some of the wait out of the dining experience, these food-service setups have the added benefit of predigesting your food before it ever passes your lips.

The mattar paneer, peas in a sauce with Indian cheese charged with spices, is a prime example of this. The crowded mass of chickpeas in this soupy cheese gravy was overcooked, rendering them Gerber-soft and mushy. The whole thing could have been sucked through a wide straw without chewing.

And the buffet's soup of the day, dubbed Madras, tasted suspiciously like Campbell's tomato soup, albeit in Indian-spice drag. Vegetable pakora was dry and greasy with a soft coating void of crispness or crunch.

But there were some moderate successes strapped to this torture table. Beef mushroom, a stewy slop holding chewy, fibrous dry beef, was spiked with seasonings that suffused it in an aromatic earthiness. And chicken tandoori, a collection of barbecued clucker thighs and legs seasoned with garlic, chili powder, ginger, and yogurt, was mostly moist, but far too much of it was dry and chewy with a slightly off, lost-in-the-back-of-the-refrigerator flavor. Curry chicken, however, was sunk in a provocative sauce and was moist and chewy through and through.

Plucking from the menu instead of the buffet was a bit more rewarding. Things start with papad, crispy lentil wafers zapped with black pepper and other spices coupled with a pair of sauces for dipping. These lentil shingles were light with a delicate crunch.

Perhaps the most successful item on the menu was the refreshingly clean, hearty chicken chat, a chilled salad with moist, tender chicken chunks; crisp hunks of cucumber; and moist potato in cleanly vibrant, spicy tamarind sauce.

The rest of the menu faded dismally from there. Garlic naan, actually an Indian pita bread, was moist but had that odd, synthetic flavor often characteristic of chopped garlic from a jar. Samosa with chole, fried turnovers stuffed with potato and spicy chickpeas, would have been a big hit had they not been anchored in a big gooey swamp of curry yogurt and tamarind chutney.

Lentil soup with chicken and rice had a good, rich flavor, but the lentils and rice were cooked into a plodding muddiness, adding silt to the swampy tone vigorously set with the previous item.

And then there is the potent example of miscued billing. The menu boasts that the lamb saagwala possesses succulent pieces of lamb cooked with spinach and spices. But the meat was dry and mealy with precious little flavor. Plus, the pasty, pulverized spinach tasted as though it had been unceremoniously yanked from a can in undignified clumps.

Shrimp curry had prawns that were firm and moist. But the beasts were saddled with a distinct taste resembling bar soap. Some pieces were mushy and overcooked, while the curry sauce lacked clean freshness, and the flavors with muddled instead of specific.

Shalimar isn't a disaster, just underachieving. Metaphorically illustrating this stumble is the bowl filled with fennel seeds dotted with tiny Tic-Tac-like candies placed near the entrance. A spoon is buried in the depths of the grains.

Fennel seeds are often spooned into the palm and eaten at the conclusion of Indian meals as a breath freshener and digestive aid. But these seeds were dry and coarse, stripped of any herbal potency. There's something harshly ironic about a dismally stale herb offered as a breath freshener.

Suprabhath.581 West Campbell ShoppingPlaza, #127, Richardson;(972) 437-9727.Open for lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday;open for dinner 6:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.$-$$

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