Fancy a curry? Head to the Palace

A veritable potpourri of Indian cuisine delights at Palace of India. Photo by Amanda Kamppinen.

At Palace of India, their goal is to present the same culinary delights that were relished in the palaces of the Maharajas. That’s an admirable objective, but as someone who – to borrow a friend’s not-so-famous phase – never met an Indian dish I didn’t like, I suspect I’d be just as smitten with street food in Mumbai.

Entering the Palace of India, I couldn’t help but harbor reservations. As someone who has lived in England, where Indian cuisine is plentiful and often dubbed the national cuisine with affectionate jest, I admit to being a bit snobbish about what constitutes good Indian food.

The quintessential Indian appetizer: steaming hot simosas. Photo by Amanda Kamppinen.

Conveniently situated across from the St. Cecilia Music Center, where I had to be for a concert by 7:30, ‘Palace’ proved to be the best choice for a dinner beforehand. It’s located in a pretty good spot, 138 Fulton St E. If you like sitting by large windows and people watching (I do), you’re in for a treat.

The tantalizing aroma of spices greeted us as we stepped through the doors. Great. It passed the smell test. The dining room is a little stark and the one thing that stood out was that the restaurant uses paper placemats instead of white tablecloths (which I think would look much nicer). I was probably being overly judgmental because, after all, we were looking for a quick bite before a show, not to linger for hours.

Another reason I entered reluctantly was that I was still getting over the sting of Bombay Cuisine and East West Brewing closing its Eastown doors. There was just something very appealing about the endeavor to merge a Grand Rapids craft brewery with daring cuisine.

I say ‘daring’ because whenever I’m presented with a menu that has words on it that I’ve never seen before, I experience an amygdala hijack, a flush of panic. So many words! I’m too hungry to read all that, and besides, I’ve forgotten my reading glasses (I always forget my reading glasses).

I know Indian cuisine well enough to merely glance at the menu. I can appreciate some people not knowing how to “do” Indian. I’m sure a lot of people would feel about as comfortable ordering a “curry” as I do when I try to line dance. Not very.

So, here are some steps for how to “do” Palace of India.

One: Order a pot of tea. I ordered a pot of Jasmine tea for the table like I always do. If it’s a hot summer day (counting down the days myself), order a mango lassie instead. It’s a delicious smoothy type beverage made from, yep, you guessed it, mango.

Two: Right off the bat, you’re going to want to order some samosas and papadums. Papadums come out instantly and should be served with a variety of dips and chutneys. The samosas will take a while. Crisp and golden-brown papadums (thin crackers made of lentil) provide a satisfying crunch, while piping hot samosas, dough-filled with spiced potatoes and peas (or chicken or meat), offer a delightful contrast of textures and flavors.

Three: They will ask you if you want naan. Say yes, but with your meal. I always choose garlic. No Indian meal is complete without this signature bread, soft and pillowy, with a slight char from the tandoor (clay oven) it’s served as the perfect accompaniment to mop up the rich gravies and sauces of the main dishes, which are served family style. Everyone digs in.

Four: Order the meal

That night there were four of us dining, and I got to sample quite a bit of the Palace’s offerings.

I voiced my suggestions: Baingan bharta, a vegetarian dish, and the iconic chicken tikka masala.

Baingan bharta is eggplant at its very best in my humble opinion. Roasted over an open flame to impart a smoky flavor, the tender eggplant is then mashed and cooked with tomatoes, onions, and spices, resulting in a luscious, soul-satisfying dish.

Next up, the iconic chicken tikka masala always takes center stage, its creamy tomato-based sauce enveloping chunks of succulent chicken. A harmonious blend of spices, including cumin, coriander, and garam masala, lends depth and warmth to this beloved dish, which has won the hearts of hungry curry lovers all over the world. To demonstrate just how good it is, and how often we ordered Indian food in London (it’s as common as pizza delivery here), every time my two-year-old heard the doorbell ring she would get really excited and say: “The chicken tikka masalad (not a typo) man is here!”

Lamb Rogan Josh is a heavenly Kashmiri dish, with tender chunks of lamb simmered in a rich, velvety gravy infused with aromatic spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves. The melt-in-your-mouth texture and complex flavors made it an instant hit. If you like a bit more heat, try Lamb Vindaloo.

Speaking of heat, pro tip: Order a cooling raita, a yogurt-based condiment infused with cucumber, mint, and spices, provides a refreshing respite from the heat of the spices, and adds balance to the meal.

The real showstopper at Palace of India, and the reason I’ll be returning again and again was the Tandoori chicken.  As the sizzling platter of marinated chicken emerged from the kitchen, all eyes were upon the generous helping set down before us. The tender meat, imbued with smoky flavors and aromatic spices, was a testament to the culinary prowess of the chefs at Palace of India. It was by far this dinner’s winner. And there was enough left over to take home.

To sum it up, the food was well above average, the ambiance was a tiny bit lacking, but the right temperature. The price was amazing for the amount of food we ordered. No real complaints. Highly recommend.

Indian food cheat sheet

Aloo: Potato
Samosas: vegetables (or meat) stuffed in pastry and deep fried until golden brown.
Matar: Peas
Gobi: Cauliflower
Papadum: Thin seasoned Lentil crackers, generally served with chutney.
Chana: Chickpeas
Dal: Lentils and split beans
Bhindi Bhaji: fried okra
Saag: Greens
Palak: Spinach
Paneer: Cheese
Curry: Gravy
Tikka: Small Chunks
Masala: Spice Blend
Kofta: Meatballs
Tandoori: means it’s cooked in a Clay Oven or pot
Raita: A blend of yogurt with cucumber (adds flavor and a cooling effect to mitigate spiciness of dishes where more “heat” is present)




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