A chip off the ol’ baingan bhartha
Had I known that Punjab Palace was related to India Quality, my favorite old-school Indian restaurant, I’d have visited sooner. By old school, I mean focused on Punjabi and Mughlai cuisine, which a mere few years ago was the only Indian food you could find in Boston. Our swelling population of Indian and Pakistani ex-pats has driven demand for more diversity: Bostonians can now enjoy regional specialties from all over the subcontinent, as well as from such adopted homelands as Birmingham, England.
Punjab Palace shows a bit of this eclecticism, offering scorching vindaloos from Goa and a few Desi Chinese dishes. But its essential charm is in doing Northern Indian fare exceptionally well. Starters, such as vegetable pakora ($2.95) and onion bhaji ($2.95), are gorgeous small fritters made tastier with chickpea-flour batter. They barely need their trio of chutneys (onion, cilantro, and tamarind). Tandoori chicken ($10.95) sizzles like Punjabi fajitas in gorgeous orange-tinged chunks permeated with charcoal smoke. Essential legume entrées include dal makhani ($9.95), creamy lentils, and channa masala ($10.95), chickpeas in a tomato-based sauce. Luxurious Mughal dishes include lamb shahi korma ($11.95) in an intensely rich sauce of pounded cashews, and sheek kebab ($11.95), minced lamb skewers reminiscent of Turkish döner kebab. The accompanying basmati rice is fine, but these dishes are best eaten with traditional flatbreads, such as buttery white-flour naan ($2.75) or humble whole-wheat roti ($2.25). Raita ($1.50), mint/yogurt dip with crunchy cucumber chunks, adds a cooling note to chili-fired dishes. And paneer chili ($10.95), a Desi Chinese dish with mahogany-colored sauce glossy with cornstarch, coruscates on the tongue with fierce, fresh jalapeños; bright garlic and ginger flavors; and chunks of paneer, an Indian farmer cheese doing a fair imitation of tofu. It’s a rare example of truly successful fusion cuisine.
Kulfi ($2.95), densely textured Indian ice cream, provides an impressive ending with its yogurt-y tang and a dusting of pulverized pistachios. The kitchen’s subtle hand with the Northern spice palette is set off by a room slicker than most Allston storefonts, service more attentive than most inexpensive Indian restaurants, and a riveting spectacle of Bollywood music videos on a big plasma TV. In short, Punjab Palace proves to be the kind of kid brother that would make any older sibling proud.
Punjab Palace, located at 109 Brighton Avenue, in Allston, is open Monday through Friday, from 11:30 am to 3 pm and 5 to 11 pm, and on Saturday and Sunday, from 11:30 am to 11 pm. Call 617.254.1500.
: On The Cheap
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