WHY WE WENT:
It's new. It's Indian. It's downtown.
STYLE OF FOOD: Ethnic.
DRESS & DÃ?COR: Casual dress. Casual dÃ©cor and simple tables with ethnic touches, such as in the multicolored draperies. Ethnic background music is a nice touch.
SERVICE: Slow at times but earnest and friendly.
MUST-TRY DISHES: Just about every appetizer. One was as delightful as the next. We shared a $7 vegetarian appetizer assortment and were wowed by a large and crispy samosa filled with green peas and potatoes, at least two portions of Aloo Tikki, or boiled potato patties laced with coriander and given some chili heat, and Paneer Pakoda, or seasoned cottage cheese. An individual order of Chicken Pakoda ($5) is the Indian version of American chicken strips, only better. The pieces are smaller and lighter – though plentiful – and the batter, while Indian-spiced, is more delicate. The pure-white chicken was beyond reproach. Must-try main courses include numerous curries and chicken or lamb prepared in a host of exotic ways. A $12.50 chicken curry brings the requisite light gravy and only a mild level of spice and will appeal to even the plainest eaters. Malai Murgh Tikka ($12.50) is boneless, skewered chicken pieces direct from the traditional pot-belly clay oven with just enough herbs and spices. The taste is similar to a grilled/smoked chicken, and, again, the chicken itself was perfection. (Absolutely no junk meat.) A gleaming silver pot of Chili Chicken ($13) was the spiciest dish we tried, but that's because we boldly ordered medium. Words to the wise: You'll be asked what level of spice you can tolerate, and we recommend mild unless you're a rock star. One of us only thought she was. (Water, please.) Our server recommended squeezing some lemon on the leftovers for a milder next-day lunch. Given the substantial rice, over which you place your chosen meat, by the way, there was plenty left for a next-day lunch.
OTHER FARE: Mulligatawny, tomato and chicken soups, eight vegetarian specialties and plenty of chicken dishes we didn't get to try necessitate a revisit. Butter Chicken, billed as a classic favorite all over India and Great Britain, was, alas, unavailable, and we bypassed Chicken Tikka Masala and Chicken Korma only because we'd tried these classic dishes elsewhere. The latter two are great choices for beginners. Tikka Masala sports tomatoes, onions and green peppers, and Korma is a bit spicier yet creamy, boasting coconut flavor and a yogurt-based simmer sauce. Indian breads are available a la carte, and a $3 hefty helping of garlic naan was chewy and flavorful.
DESSERTS? Interesting! Ras Malai ($5) is a curious wonder in white. Sugary (but not overly sweet) white balls of paneer, which is essentially an Indian soft cheese, are soaked and seem to float in cream, for an effect that is chewy and milky at the same time. Gulab Jamun (also $5), on the other hand, will strike a familiar note, as these are basically fried dough. Every culture has its fried dough, a guest said while enjoying this also-cheese-based, somewhat-wet dessert, which doesn't so much float as sit in syrup. The Indian touch is the type of syrup: rosewater-scented. Both were nice changes of pace.
To our disappointment – but we got over it – fountain sodas were not available, so we had to settle for cans. But we also tried a $3 Mango Lassi, which resembled a tropical drink only creamier, owing to its yogurt base. Mango lassi is the sweet yogurt drink here, while Chaas is the salty version. Other choices are coffee, latte or espresso. (Sorry, no wine or beer. You won't miss it.)
HOURS: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Fridays; 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m. Saturdays. The early hours are buffet hours, which, we have to say, we cannot wait to take advantage of, if only to sample some of the items we missed. For $10 on weekdays and $12.50 on Saturdays, it's all you can eat, which is quite appealing in a place so full of curiosities. At least for now, takeout buffet is also available; call it all you can fit in the provided container.
PRICES: Most main dishes are $12 to $13, and we appreciated the affordably priced appetizers as well.
THE LOCATION: 78 S. Main St., Wilkes-Barre.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: We were initially a tad skeptical, having walked into a nearly empty restaurant on a Saturday night about 6:30. Seemingly within a half hour, however, the entire restaurant was full, including a large party table near the front windows. This has to mean something. The quality and quantity of the food quickly erased any doubts. A few service issues, such as forgotten beverage refills and dessert orders and quite a lag time in getting the bill, might be attributed to the full house as well as to the staff getting adjusted. We were forgiving. It was truly lovely to enjoy such ethnic diversity, in cuisine and company – we loved the melting-pot crowd – in downtown Wilkes-Barre.