Savory delights at India Palace


January 24, 2002|By Robin Tunnicliff Reid | Robin Tunnicliff Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FROM the outside, India Palace doesn't look much like "Baltimore's Taj Mahal of Indian restaurants" (as its carryout menu claims it is). In fact, were it not for the sandwich board placed on the sidewalk near the Long Reach Village Center's Safeway, one might not even know that there's a restaurant here at all, tucked away overlooking an interior courtyard.

Step inside, however, and India Palace assumes a more regal air. Chandeliers and sparkling glass sconces cast a warm glow over the pink walls and white linen tablecloths. Two mesh clothing forms wrapped in gauze and white lights flank the entrance.

Rampy Singh, one of the owners, answers questions with gracious ease. A waiter ferries covered metal dishes to tables on a small cart. He then carefully spoons small portions of food onto plates, as if to encourage diners to savor each bite.

And we found nearly each bite of India Palace's food well worth savoring. The chaat papri - an appetizer of fried, bite-sized wheat chips, chick peas and diced potatoes in a creamy, green yogurt tamarind sauce - was a treat, alternating from sweet to sour to salty.

For sheer complexity, there's a vegetarian entree called eggplant bharta. Its taste was wonderfully smoky at first bite, followed by a spicy little punch that tickled the backs of our tongues. Roasting the eggplant in a tandoor oven provided the smoky flavor; the final punch came from a blend of Indian spices.

Singh recommended that we try the lamb methi, an intriguing entree that incorporated the herb fenugreek, which is related to clover. The dark green leaves gave the curry-based sauce a fragrant, slightly bitter taste that worked well with the lamb chunks, all of which were cooked to tender, pink perfection.

An eye-catching and fragrant plate of pea-studded rice, tinted yellow, peach and orange by saffron, accompanied the entrees. We also ordered nan stuffed with homemade cheese but were disappointed to find only a dusting of cheese curds. The nan itself, however, was a great example of the traditional Indian bread - soft, chewy and warm.

Of the other things we tried, the best was a vegetable appetizer platter for two: two samosas (potato-and-pea dumplings) and several pakoras (broccoli and cauliflower rolled in chick-pea batter and fried) served with mint-cilantro, tamarind and onion relish dipping sauces. The delicious bite-sized snacks were free of any grease, and the three sauces were finger-dipping good.

India Palace's two soups were disappointing. The lentils in the thin mulligatawny had had all the life pureed out of them, and too many spices overwhelmed the few shreds of meat that were in the chicken soup.

Desserts let us down as well. The homemade pistachio ice cream was more like half-frozen milk. The marvelous-sounding gulabjamun - deep-fried cottage-cheese balls dipped in honey-and-rosewater syrup and topped with almonds - lacked any taste whatsoever. Singh, to his credit, took both desserts off the check when he noticed that we did not finish them.

These setbacks aside, the good at India Palace outweighs the bad.

For those for whom Columbia might as well be as far as the Taj Mahal, India Palace has a sister restaurant in Cockeysville. (Singh and his father have another place in Queens, N.Y., Shalimar, near Jackson Heights.) Whatever outpost you choose, if it's good northern Indian cuisine you're after, you're in for royal treatment.

India Palace

28775 Cloudleap Court, Columbia


Open: For lunch and dinner daily

Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V

Prices: Appetizers $1 to $8.95; entrees $9.95 to $17.95

Food: ***

Service: ***

Atmosphere: ***

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