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

From the south Indian sub-menu, the aloo masala dosa ($7.95) is a classic giant rice-flour pancake, rolled so long it extends beyond the edges of the plate. The potatoes and onions inside aren't quite caramelized, as they're meant to be, but they're close. The accompanying bowl of soup/dip, known as sambar, isn't nearly strong enough. As my colleague MC Slim JB pointed out in his recent "On the Cheap" review of this place, you have to be insistent if you want things spicy. I requested "medium" hotness on three visits, but it only got hotter as I became a familiar face.

Some of the most attractive vegetarian options bring small portions. Vegetable xacuti ($15.95, also in slightly more expensive meat and seafood permutations), for instance, has lots of good carrots, some onions, bits of cauliflower and broccoli, and even a few cubes of tofu or paneer cheese. It's sweet and sour — perhaps too sweet for some — and very nice with rice or bread. The soup-bowl portion will not please hungry vegans. Chana saag ($16.95) is chickpeas with spinach, and didn't come together for me.

Indian buffets work for the same reason Chinese buffets don't: stews get better as they sit in a chafing dish; fried foods and stir-fries get worse. So the lunch buffet ($7.95/weekdays; $9.95/weekends) is an outstanding buy. One stew I particularly liked at lunch was chicken dilruba ($12.95/dinner): boneless breast in a ginger-coriander sauce with a very effective use of fresh mushrooms. Chicken Tikka Masala ($12.95), a dish so common in England they sell it at McDonald's and put it on pizza, is rendered new and exciting by using the same tandoori tomato-cream sauce with cilantro as the base.

Ghazal has a deep list of tandoori breads — 12 besides the complimentary plain — and all we tried were superb. A basic naan comes with every dinner, browned and bubbly, but that should just get you started. The peshawari naan ($3.95) has raisins and almonds, and is a little sweet. Broccoli naan ($3.95) is the savory answer, flecked with green bits and Indian pickle. Desi paratha ($3.95), actually a skillet bread, is like a buttery tostada. Have a couple of these and you won't care about the size of the entrées.

Of the two Indian beers, Flying Horse ($6.95/22 ounces) is fresher and sharper, despite being imported from Bangalore. The other, Kingfisher ($6.95), is brewed under license in the US. Sula Chenin Blanc ($6.95/glass) is India's first commercial wine: a clean, semi-sweet white that doesn't have all the aromatics of Vouvray, but does go with Indian food. Masala tea ($2.50) is the original chai, leaner and spicier than Starbucks'.

Indian desserts are starting to grow on me. Ghazal's kulfi ($3.50) is an outstanding pistachio/rosewater ice cream, served on a stick like a Popsicle. The stick says "Rajbhog," which is the name of a New Jersey wholesale caterer of Indian sweets and ice cream, but I don't care. I'm fed up with cardamom-flavored icy kulfi, and this stuff is delicious, if extremely dense. Kheer ($3.75), a rich rice pudding with a few raisins and pistachios, is good enough, and actually better in alternation with gulab jamun ($3.25), the doughnut holes in what is usually too-sweet syrup. Warm-sweet and cold-sweet are fun.

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