An education in herbs and spices

November 30, 1995|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Maybe all the competition in the neighborhood has kept Akbar on its toes. Mount Vernon has more than its share of good ethnic restaurants, including three good Indian restaurants. Who would have thought that one of them, Akbar, would be even better than when it opened?

It's been so long I can't quite remember what Akbar's dining room looked like then, but it seems warmer and cozier now. Banquettes line one wall; on the other side is a floor-to-ceiling mirror that opens up the small room.

When Akbar first appeared in a basement dining room under the Green Earth on North Charles Street, it was something Baltimore hadn't seen before: an Indian restaurant that specialized in dishes like crab Malabar (crab meat in a coriander cream sauce) as well as the familiar curries and shish kebabs.

Crab Malabar is still on the menu; it no longer seems particularly exotic. But be sure to take a look at the list of specials, which features some of the most interesting and seasonal choices.

The tandoori salmon was particularly memorable. Fresh and moist with a superb smoky flavor, it's cooked with onions and green peppers and served with that wonderfully chewy flat bread called nan, also baked in the tandoor oven.

Dinner at Akbar is an education in herbs and spices. Discover aromatic fenugreek in chicken methiwala, a house specialty. Or a new take on fresh mint leaves, surprisingly baked with butter in a whole wheat bread (podina paratha). Mustard seeds spark the sauce of coconut milk that bathes a shrimp special.

Main courses are more intriguing than appetizers, which tend to the heavy and fried.

Akbar shares a few minor flaws with other local Indian restaurants. (Shrimp that are labeled "large" invariably turn out to be small. And more inexplicably: Why do they serve everything from vegetarian samplers to ice cream in those unattractive metal dishes?) And the staff, while unfailingly courteous and attentive, does expect a meal to proceed at an exceedingly leisurely pace. But such things are unimportant once you've tasted your first moist bite of tandoori salmon or mopped up the fenugreek sauce with a last bite of soft nan bread.

Akbar

823 N. Charles St.

(410) 539-0944

Open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; for dinner Sunday through Thursday 5 p.m.-11 p.m., Friday and Saturday to 11:30 p.m.; for brunch Saturday and Sunday, noon-3 p.m.

Major credit cards

Prices: appetizers, $1.95-$7.50; entrees, $7.95-$14.25

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