Of course, you may not want to stick to my prescription exactly, so here’s what else I learned during my recent visits. The mixed-appetizer platter ($7.95) showed some tired frying, especially on a couple of tough, dark-brown chicken pakoras ($5.95/à la carte), though the mixed-vegetable pakoras ($3.75) aren’t damaged by over-frying, and several had refreshing bursts of ginger amid the usual onion-curry flavors. Samosas ($3.75) didn’t have the great flaky pastry you get a few doors down at Dawat, but they were okay. And the potato patty known as aloo tikki ($3.75) was excellent — the fried appetizer to have if you are having only one. (Don’t worry about the phrase “black bean batter.” They mean urad dal, which is a black-skinned pulse that is white inside, and grinds down to a nice flour for fry batter.) Aloo tikki is especially good with the lively mint chutney, but a familiar mango chutney is also available for $1.95.
Lunch is a bargain at Punjab Palace, despite the lack of buffet. (Nadeau’s law: Indian buffets are good because stew gets better as it sits around; Chinese buffets, nix.) Coconut korma is a typical curry, but is enriched with coconut milk, making a small bowl hard to finish if you cut it with plenty of rice. Fish jalfrezi ($6.95/lunch; $13.95/dinner), a nice light curry with vegetables that contrasts well with the heavier stews, is a sensibly priced mid-day-meal option. (The same can be said of many other lunch options, duplicates of the dinner selection at a fraction of the price.) Only at dinner, however, can you get channa saagwala ($11.95), a vegan entrée just as filling as any, because the chick peas are in a thick spinach sauce.
Kheer ($2.95), a rice pudding, is usually the safe Indian dessert. But the rice was still crunchy during our lunchtime visit, probably because someone added sugar too soon. One also wants more spice in kheer, since Indian rice pudding lacks egg-custard richness. Despite the shortcomings of this dish, Punjab Palace seems to have skirted the usual pitfalls of most Indian dessert selections. A good chocolate cake ($3.95) — likely not made in-house — and a fine tiramisu ($4.50) are presented on a handsomely decorated pattern of chocolate and mango sauces.
The storefront dining room is prettier than most in this Allston area, with Sikh pictures on ragged yellow walls, wood chairs, and linen set. All eyes tend toward a plasma TV tuned to a Bollywood music-video channel, with videos that are darned good. When Madonna wants to save some money, she can now outsource and get an exotic look at the same time.
Were this to become a frequent destination for you, it might easily become a favorite wallet-saving spot, since it’s less expensive than most of its competition in the Allston ethnic restaurant village, and the best dishes here are better than most. Try the menu at the top of this column (or similar dishes, which your waiter can suggest), keep your eye on what the South Asian customers are having, and you can eat four-star food at two-star prices at Punjab Palace.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.