Ghazal Fine Indian Cuisine

A new neighbor tones down the décor and excels in spots
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  February 26, 2009
2.0 2.0 Stars

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Ghazal Fine Indian Cuisine | 711 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain | 617.522.9500 | Open Monday–Thursday, 11 am–11 pm; Friday, 11 am–midnight; Saturday, noon–midnight; and Sunday, noon–11 pm | AE, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Street-level access via rear parking lot | No valet parking
Once upon a time, I attended a neighborhood meeting about transferring the liquor license from the lamented Café D to the proposed Ghazal. For some reason, neighbors were concerned not about whether the new owners could handle the responsibilities of a full liquor license, but about how the neighborhood would support two Indian restaurants.

Ghazal has certainly answered that question by providing a variety of dishes that Bukhara (the other Indian restaurant in question) does not, plus warm service, competitive pricing, and mixed drinks. Whether that's a commercial answer, I don't know. (I do food, not market analysis.)

Speaking of which, the fare at Ghazal is generally up with the better second-tier Indian restaurants, and sometimes excels. The chefs here have solved the sizzling-platter problem, for instance, in which you enjoy the noise and aroma, but find that the heated insert has overcooked your food. Each platter is lined with raw onions, red and green bell peppers, and broccoli. The tandoori meats or seafood on top are insulated, and the vegetable underlayer gets nicely seared, no more.

The rest of the meal begins ordinarily enough, with a couple of papadum and the usual three chutneys: mint, tamarind, and a tongue-scorching onion. Our favorite appetizers were tomato soup ($2.95), and the wonderful fried things on the Ghazal special platter ($10.95). The soup is thick without cream, loaded with fresh cilantro and a calibrated hit of spice, and came to the table piping hot. As for the platter, I liked the tandoori chicken chunks, but I loved the pyramidal samosas (with spicy "lamburger," $3.95/à la carte; one with even spicier potatoes and peas, $2.95) and the mixed-vegetable pakoras ($3.50; also available in cheese, chicken, and potato varieties, $4.95).

Bhel ($4.95), one of my bellwether appetizers, gets a spicy treatment here. It's basically puffed wheat, chickpeas, diced apples, and apple cubes. You eat it with a spoon — think Cajun crackerjack. Dahi bhalla ($3.95) brings lentil dumplings in a yogurt and tamarind sauce, but it sounds better than it tastes. The white dumplings are bland and heavy, though the sauce is fine. A little Tabasco is actually what it needs.

My favorite entrée was rack of lamb ($20.95): four baby chops marinated in yogurt and a novel spice mixture, with the vegetables from the sizzling platter underneath. On the tandoori sahnji mixed grill ($18.95), the best items were the herbal minced-lamb seekh kebab ($11.95) and the heavily marinated lamb tikka ($14.95). You could probably steer clear of the tandoori chicken ($11.95) or cubes of chicken ($13.95), and possibly the shrimp ($16.95), too. The mixed grill, like most tandoori dishes here, has a creamy tomato sauce, also touched up with cilantro, which is excellent.

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