Touted as "Tulsa's oldest Indian restaurant," India Palace also has the distinction of being one of the best destinations for fine Indian cuisine. I am a frequent diner of this place, so I knew what to expect. As I walked into the restaurant, the décor sets a warm and cozy tone: dark lighting, Indian wall hangings -- some with sequins, deep maroon table cloths, and Indian music brings one into a realm of relaxation.
There were already a number of diners this evening around 5:30pm. We selected a table in a corner, hoping to be a little more secluded from other diners, but as can happen at any fine dining establishment, a table of two behind us conversed at a decibel level higher than needed. For a while, my dining companion and I ceased our conversation and were brought into the life and escapades of those behind us. Soon, but not soon enough, they left.
Our server for the evening kindly greeted us with menus and asked for our drink orders. I selected an Indian beer, Taj Mahal, a premium lager. My friend ordered a glass of Black Opal Cabernet Merlot ($7). Both were welcomed on this stifling late afternoon.
We reviewed the appetizers, and at the suggestion of our server, went with the Assorted Hors d'Oeuvres ($5.95) a sampling that includes chicken pakora (fried chicken pieces which have been marinated in yogurt, ginger and garlic); vegetable samosa (crisp pastry stuffed with seasoned potatoes and green peas); and vegetable pakora (mixed vegetable fritters).
While we waited for the appetizer, we nibbled on "chips and salsa" Indian style. Crispy lentil wafers with embedded fennel seeds called papad were the chips and the salsa was a three-part mixture of spicy onion chutney, a pesto sauce and a sweet and sour sauce tamarind sauce. Our server mixed all three, explaining each may serve as separate dips or blended as he prepared it for us tableside. It can be mixed at varying degrees of spiciness -- we chose a spicier version. This mixed dip was a fine complex taste of uncommon spices and textures.
Our appetizer arrived; the plate was a generous selection of chicken and vegetables. We ate the vegetable samosa first. This tall triangular-shaped pastry was filled with seasoned mashed potatoes and green peas. The crust, as with the coating on all the appetizers on the plate, had a distinct taste of what I estimate was cumin. It added an exotic flare to a simple combo of peas and potatoes. Other vegetable samplings included breaded cauliflower, sliced potatoes and mushrooms. The chicken pakora was very tender fried chicken pieces. The menu says this appetizer is ideal for two, but in actuality, three or four would enjoy sharing this one.
For the evening's dinner, I selected Tandoori Chicken ($10.95) from the "From the Tandoor" section on the menu. My friend selected the Navratten Curry from the "Vegetables" section. The menu is of good size with ample selections: Biryani (a traditional meal with a foundation of basmati rice; it is often layered with meat then oven-baked). At India Palace, it is made with lamb or beef, chicken, shrimp or vegetables. Other menu selections include salads, soups, Indian breads, chicken, beef, lamb and seafood dishes.
Possibly one of my favorite reasons to come to India Palace is the Indian bread, naan. Eleven different types are offered; we selected the Paneer Kukha ($3.50) which is naan bread stuffed with homemade cheese. This was brought to our table nicely warmed; it was excellent! This flatbread or pita-like bread is tender and gently browned. With the homemade cheese filling (the cheese was like a feta cheese), this simple bread was a delightful companion to our meals.
I could hear my entrée before it arrived at my table.
About halfway down the dining room, a sizzling sound announced the arrival of my Tandoori Chicken. It was served in an oblong, fajita-type cast iron skillet: four pieces of white chicken breast mingled among coarsely sliced white onions (al dente) sizzled at the prompting of a freshly squeezed lemon. The chicken boasted a classic Indian red hue, our server explained. The chicken was first soaked in plain yogurt which has a little "coloring," and marinated at least one day before cooking. Service is home style, with individual dishes of the chicken with onions, rice and an orange-colored masala sauce of coriander, cumin, ginger, garlic and cream. This dish was phenomenal. It blended common chicken with an Indian expression of color, flavor and texture. I layered the basmati rice with the masala sauce and topped it with chicken. It was a fine dinner.
My friend's Navratten Curry, the only curry vegetable dish, was akin to a mild, sweet stew. Served with fresh springs of cilantro on top, this dish was very thick and rich. The name is derived from "Navratan" which means nine gems -- and in this case, the nine gems are the nine different vegetables in the dish. We deciphered at least seven of the nine: green beans, carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, peas and potatoes. It was like a homemade vegetable stew, just a little thicker and with more varied spices.
We found that for a fine dining experience such as this, the total price for the meal was under $55 -- a great deal, we thought, for what we had. The service was impeccable -- we had not only our server, but the owner and a number of other staff members made sure we had had that we needed throughout our meal.
For those a bit timid about the trying Indian cuisine, we found this food not too different from American food -- only the spices and preparations vary; the basic foods are the same. A great starting point is to come for the lunch buffet, offered each day from 11am-2:30pm. Here, a sampling of all the main dishes is available -- even dessert.
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