Average food, excellent service at Jai Hind

September 23, 1994|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

I couldn't resist. I went back into The Sun's files to see what I had written about the Jai Hind 20 years ago when it first opened. After all, the Jai Hind is something of a historical monument. As Baltimore's first Indian restaurant, it was the city's introduction to curries and raita and chapati and gulab jamun.

In 1974, the dining room was small and narrow, crowded with tables. It didn't have a liquor license, and if you wanted tandoori chicken, you ordered it in advance. You had to beg the kitchen to make the dishes spicier. And, of course, 20 years ago, ethnic food was by definition cheap: Two of us had all we could eat for $14.

Many things have changed -- not the most surprising being that four of us spent $93 before taxes and tip. The dining room has expanded and become more formal, with a full bar. But time seems to have passed the Jai Hind by, as more, and more ambitious, Indian restaurants have opened (and some closed) in the area -- Tandoor, the Bombay Grill, Akbar, the India Grill, Banjara. The Jai Hind no longer has the energy it used to have, crowded with people waiting for the exotic dishes Mr. and Mrs. George Matthew -- the first owners, Indian in spite of their name -- served up.

Enough nostalgia. Go to the Jai Hind now and you will find a pleasant restaurant with average food and excellent service to go with it. The kitchen can be careless, as when vegetable pakora (vegetables fried in a chickpea batter) arrived burned to a crisp. Or thoughtless, as when the dal soup -- ordered by the one customer who requested her food mild -- arrived too spicy to eat. Or stingy, as when the chicken korma contained very little in the way of chicken (and all of it dark meat).

Nonmeat eaters will fare best here, whether it's a samosa, a tender deep-fried dumpling stuffed with potatoes and peas; or the excellent basmati rice; or dal, a flavorful lentil dish; or a delicate ocean perch fried and covered with a spicy sauce of tomatoes, peppers and onions. The breads are good, especially the onion kulcha, a white flour bread stuffed with sauteed onions and baked in the tandoor oven.

If you do want meat, I recommend the tandoor dishes rather than some of the curries with their murky sauces. A tandoor platter gave us a sampling of the tender lamb, chicken, beef and shrimp, marinated in yogurt and spices and baked in the charcoal oven. Too bad the vegetables were so undercooked.

Usually I gamely order an Indian dessert but never really enjoy it (unless it's a tropical ice cream; the Jai Hind has mango and coconut). This time it was kulfi with faluda, a grainy frozen dessert that melted quickly and had pleasant flavors of mango, pistachio and coconut -- refreshing and more appealing to NTC Western tastes than many Indian desserts are.

Jai Hind

Where: 5511 York Road

Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday,

4:30 p.m.-10 p.m.; Monday, 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: Major credit cards

Features: Indian food

Non-smoking section? Yes

Call: (410) 323-8440

Prices: Entrees, $7.75-$13.50

**

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