Years ago, I brought a date to Boston's oldest Indian restaurant (the bygone Kebab-n-Kurry), promising, "The food's great, but the servers are the surliest bunch you've ever seen — so sullen it's hilarious!" Then we got a sweet, solicitous waiter, spoiling our fun. I took this as a sign that Boston's Indian restaurants were becoming so mainstream that they actually had to compete on service. Still, not every Indian restaurant has gotten that memo. So the anxious-to-please staff at the new Ghazal — an independent, family-run place in Jamaica Plain — sets a very welcoming tone.
The lunch buffet ($7.95 weekdays; $9.95 for the deluxe weekend spread) shows Ghazal's Punjabi roots with classics like saag paneer, vegetable curry, tandoori chicken, and that ever-popular UK hit, chicken tikka masala. This all-you-can-eat spread is an exemplary cheap-eats bargain. (It helps that long-cooked Indian dishes don't suffer on steam tables.) The evening menu is extensively Punjabi, too, with smoky, subtly seasoned roast veggies, meats, and seafood from the tandoor (charcoal-fired clay oven) like seekh kebab (skewered lamb meatballs, $11.95); various casseroles of spinach, legumes, potatoes, eggplant, cauliflower, and/or farmer cheese, like jalandhari chhole (a piquant chickpea stew, $11.95); and Indo-Persian Mughal dishes with rich nut-and-raisin-based sauces, like lamb korma ($13.95).
Ghazal also ranges across the subcontinent: to the South with the savory stuffed crêpes and pancakes that are dosas and uttapams ($6.25–$8.95), to Bengal with jhinga chaat (a cold shrimp-and-cucumber salad, $6.95), and to Goa with vindaloos of chicken, lamb, beef, or swordfish ($12.50–$15.50). (The chef has a restrained hand with chilies — be insistent if you like yours Indian-hot.) Novel curries include surprisingly sweet vegetable xacuti ($15.95) and the wonderful Pakistani-English chicken balti ($12.95), served in a cunning copper pot. Excellent breads emerge from the tandoor, like buttery naan ($2.95); from the griddle-like tava, including unleavened whole-wheat roti ($2.95); and from the fryer, like airy, oily poori ($3.50). Desserts feature lovely versions of kheer (a loose rice pudding, $3.75) and kulfi (saffron ice cream, $3.50).
In addition to lassi ($2.95–$3.25) and tea ($1.50–$2.50), a few Indian lagers and under–$8 wines by the glass are served. The attractive room, given a light Indian redecoration from its prior incarnation as Cafû D, is dimly lit and often loud. But overall, Ghazal represents a welcome addition to JP's admirable assortment of nicely priced restaurants, and puts its competitors on notice that they'd better be pleasant to their customers.
Ghazal Fine Indian Cuisine, located at 711 Centre Street, in Jamaica Plain, is open Monday through Thursday, from 11:30 am to 11 pm; on Friday, from 11:30 am to midnight; on Saturday, from noon to midnight; and on Sunday, from noon to 11 pm. Call 617.522.9500.