SPICE IS NICE With its cumin accent, the galouti kebab is comforting and delicious.
The three owners of The Maharaja have done a very good job redecorating the already handsome upstairs space in Harvard Square that was formerly Bombay Club. They are much less clear about marketing the menu, which has all kinds of the usual Indian restaurant dishes and a few new ones. A little more research suggests that the owners, who met as students in London, have tried to combine the high style of that city's upscale subcontinental restaurants with some of the smoky, barbecue-like specialties of dhabas, Indian roadhouses. Postmodernism of this sort is possible in any cuisine, but the Maharaja team have hedged their bets too carefully.
With three other Indian restaurants in the neighborhood already, Maharaja is going to have to get by on consistent quality without outstanding brilliance. In some ways, the most notable dish I tasted was good old chicken tikka masala ($15.95), with a rich yet lively tomato-cream sauce and soft chunks of chicken breast meat. The only real drawback on this dish was un-fragrant rice. The rice at Maharaja is not basmati, but an even longer-grained white rice, like Persian rice, and without much aroma. I just found it tasteless, and thus no better than plain white bread as a way to eat curries with a lot of sauce.
I know they have one or more proper tandoors, because the menu has an entire page of tandoori appetizers and entrées, and more than a dozen breads, mostly tandoor-baked, including a garlic naan ($3.95) as nicely charred and savory as any I've ever tried.
Two of the more unusual appetizers served here are kebabs from Uttar Pradesh, a North Indian province southeast of Punjab. Shammi kebab ($8.95) is a subtly spiced combination of lamb and lentils, like an enriched falafel. Galouti kebab ($9.95) is a meatloaf-like patty with a cumin accent that I found comforting and delicious. Both of these are served on salad in ornate silvery boxes. Spicing is uniformly mild/medium, although we ordered dishes that ran the gamut from mild to spicy. We figured bhindi do pyaza ($15.95), an entrée of okra, tomato, and onion, would be a little soupy and very spicy. It was dry, and an excellent use of okra, but no spicier than our "mild" (at least once we removed the dried chili pods) khatta dhuandar gosht ($18.95), a deep-flavor mixture of fresh and smoked lamb that was what I would think of as a dhaba dish, likely from a Muslim area. I wanted "spicy" on a Goan fish curry ($17.95), but the rich coconut sauce made it milder than the mild lamb — at least in the gringo version. I don't know what happens when a bunch of South Indians come into a place like this.