Bombay Garden outshines its first impression

Curries, vindaloos, kebabs and masalas at bargain prices

January 23, 2003|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I have to admit, Bombay Garden did not make a great first impression. The balloons and streamers near the ceiling did not seem to go with the Indian artwork on the walls and the soft Indian music we heard. And the empty chafing dishes from the lunchtime buffet were still out.

But we warmed to the place once we started eating. And we even grew to like the atmosphere, which was casual enough for families, yet romantic enough for a date.

The 4-month-old Indian restaurant is owned by Balwinder Singh Chana, who owned and operated Mughal Garden on North Charles Street until recently and was chef at the renowned Akbar before that.

Prices, which hover around $10 per dish, are a little lower than at Mughal Garden, but the menu is similar, with a large selection of curries, vindaloos, kebabs, masalas and more.

As soon as we sat down, we were presented with a plate of peppery pappadam, a crisp Indian cracker made with lentils, and three bowls of dipping sauces, one of tamarind, one of coriander and one of pickled onions. They all were complex balances of sweet and piquant flavors.

There were so many tempting-sounding appetizers, we had a tough time choosing which ones to order. After much discussion, we settled on the meat samosas, the onion bajias and a vegetable platter of assorted tidbits.

The two large samosas - fried pastry packets stuffed with spiced ground meat and peas - were an incredible bargain at $3.50. They were filling enough to be a meal by themselves.

The vegetable platter had a vegetable samosa, as well as vegetable pakoras, chunks of cauliflower and other vegetables fried in chickpea flour batter. The onion bajias were basically onion rings with a slight Indian accent. It was a lot of fried food, and though it was all greaseless, it was far from light.

Still, we soldiered on, drinking a thick, sweet, mango lassis made of fruit and yogurt while we pondered our main course selections. Should we have fish curry? Crab masala? Tandoori lamb chops? The descriptions on the menu made our mouths water.

We finally settled on lamb roganjoosh, tender squares of meat in a delicious savory brown sauce; lobster malai khasa, with dice-sized chunks of the seafood in an equally delicious, but sweeter and paler, brown sauce; red-skinned tandoori chicken, which arrived sizzling and sputtering on a platter with onions; and aloo gobi, a flavorful side dish of cauliflower, potatoes and onions. They were served with a heaping mound of delicately flavored basmati rice.

As we ate, we congratulated ourselves on our brilliant choices. But I suspect everything that comes out of Chana's kitchen is prepared with the same attention.

Even my friend Cheri, who thinks everything is better in her native California, had to admit the tandoori chicken at Bombay Garden was the best she had ever had - not dry at all, as it can often be.

The dessert menu had only four items, so choosing here was much easier. Kulfi was a light mango ice cream, and kheer was a sweet, soupy rice pudding studded with raisins and pistachios.

I ordered something I had never had before: rasmalai. It was described on the menu as "patties made with fresh homemade cottage cheese served cold in a sweetened mild sauce with pistachios." It arrived looking like two chilly matzo balls in a bowl of milk - not very appetizing. After my first bite, I wasn't impressed. But I kept nibbling and nibbling, gradually warming to the milky taste and unusual dry texture of the cheese.

Like Bombay Garden itself, the dessert was much better than its first impression.

Bombay Garden

Where: 5511 York Road

Open: For lunch and dinner daily except Mondays

Prices: Appetizers, $1.75-$6.50; entrees $8.95-$16.95

Credit cards: All major cards

Call: 410-323-8440

Food: * * * 1/2

Atmosphere: * * 1/2

Service: * * * 1/2

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