The best thing about India Palace, aside from some of the food, is that the press kit contains a sheet of "frequently asked questions," or FAQs in contemporary parlance. No fooling. There's this question about owner Pardeep Sharma: Q: Is Mr. Sharma from India?
A: Mr. Pardeep Sharma is an Indian native who immigrated to New York City. He left the "Big Apple" to establish India Palace in 1985.
And then there's this:
Q: What is balti?
A: Balti is a northwestern India cooking technique that utilizes a cast-iron pot similar to a wok. Onion, garlic, ginger, fennel, and mustard seeds are just a few of the ingredients used to accent balti dishes.
But by far the most compelling FAQ on this sheet is this:
Q: Does India Palace serve alcohol?
A: India Palace has a fully stocked bar with top-shelf liquors and mixers as well as domestic and Indian beers.
That's good, very good. Because it seems that most Indian restaurants skip this very important culinary ingredient, and while I love them dearly, sometimes a mango lassi just doesn't hit the spot like a pinot does or maybe a dirty martini with a tandoori lamb-stuffed olive.
Yet as it turns out, the question concerning the balti cooking technique is the more important inquiry, because the balti dishes are quite good. Balti shrimp and chicken, served in a silver dish with two tiny looped handles on the sides, is drenched in a lusty, aromatic sauce with pieces of moist, tender chicken. The shrimp was less approachable, though, with a slight mushy texture and an off flavor, as if the freshness had worn off.
Surprisingly, India Palace's mulligatawny soup was less than fully satisfying. It wasn't as rich and robust as other versions I've sampled, and it tasted a little hollow and chalky.
The special mixed grill was a thing that would most likely scare a good portion of the Indian population, the part with the vegetable fetish. The dish includes a whole roster of fleshy chewables, many of them standouts--especially the seekh kebab, a delicious log of moist ground lamb cooked on a skewer. There was also a cube of something that looked like beef, but it was tough and chewy, not a thing of Indian grandeur. Of the chicken, the tandoori preparation, a leg and a thigh all done up in crossing-guard-vest orange, was delicious. The tikka version, however, was dry and suffused with an off flavor. There were also a couple of coiled shrimp that were firm and juicy but posted a ghost of petrol flavor on the finish. Ouch.
If you've slipped in and out of more than a couple of Indian restaurants in Dallas, you may wonder why so many of them have an infatuation with pink. Do curry and tandoori grilling taste better in pink? It's hard to say. I've also eaten Indian food in teal and brown restaurants, and I haven't noticed any debilitating digestive activities. But this, of course, is anecdotal evidence. India Palace is pink, lots of pink, with burgundy-upholstered booths.
What I've also noticed is that a lot of Indian restaurants make enthusiastic use of buffet tables. India Palace is no exception. This can have alarming as well as surprising results. Chicken tikka Marsala, diced tandoori chicken cooked in a tomato, onion, and herb cream sauce, was among the more successful steam-table survivors, with juicy, firm pieces of meat. The chicken fritters, however, fluttered between soggy and greasy and crisp and tasty: the risks of the buffet table.
Then there was this station with a large metal oiled disk that looked like a partly flattened wok. On its surface were sizzling potato rolls that looked like bleached hockey pucks. They were greasy and a little mushy, so they must have been sitting on the surface of this disk for a long time.
Fish Madras, chunks of mahi mahi with potatoes in a slightly brisk sauce, was a bit revolting, perhaps an ode to the hazards of leaving fish to ripen on a steam table. Mango pudding made for a fine dessert for a room dressed in pink. The soupy preparation had a fruit cocktail and maybe a couple of nuts dumped into its depths, and it tasted like a Jell-O mold: good wedding food. Which is good, because according to the India Palace FAQs, the restaurant has full catering services available for any special occasion.
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