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Paddy Rawal’s OM- Fine Indian Dining – Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico

Behind the glass, Paddy Rawal’s OM – Fine Indian Dining Restaurant

It wasn’t New Mexico’s Chamber of Commerce winter weather that enticed Chef Pramad “Paddy” Rawal to remain in the Land of Enchantment. In fact, when he first landed at Albuquerque’s International Sunport, he wondered if he had gotten on the correct flight. Albuquerque was as frigid as his home in Michigan which he had left just hours prior. Attired in clothing more appropriate for a balmy spring day, Paddy had certainly not anticipated the winter snap that kept New Mexicans indoors for several days on that uncommonly cold December in 2010.

Paddy was in New Mexico to visit his artist friends Dick and Jane in Santa Fe. Michigan transplants themselves, his friends had long tried to influence Paddy to leave the Wolverine State and open up a restaurant in Santa Fe. They wined and dined their guest and did their best to point out the charms of the capital city, but Mother Nature would not cooperate. Then they took him to a couple of New Mexico’s most highly regarded Indian restaurants. That’s when he came to the conclusion that what passes for good Indian food in New Mexico wasn’t good enough for his friends. Four months later, Paddy opened up Raaga Fine Indian Dining in Santa Fe.

The interior of Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining Restaurant in Albuquerque

From day one Raaga has been a huge critical success in The City Different, beloved not only by a very grateful Dick and Jane, but by Santa Fe’s savvy, well-traveled dining public. The feeling is very much mutual. Paddy has fallen in love with Santa Fe and sees himself as potentially retiring in New Mexico. Considering the well-traveled Paddy has worked as a chef in India, Egypt, Dubai, Australia and Michigan, that’s quite a testament to enchantment and to much better weather than what first welcomed him to the state.

With the November 1st, 2012 launch of Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining Restaurant, Duke City diners have begun to experience for themselves what Santa Fe diners now know and what East Lansing diners have been missing since Paddy closed his two Michigan eateries. OM may be in a class of its own in New Mexico when it comes to fine Indian dining! A number of infatuated patrons, including Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate, have already become confirmed habitues. In short order, OM will have legions of pleased patrons.

Chef Paddy Rawal brings Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken to our Table

The main reason, of course, is the cuisine. Boasting of rich, intricately flavored dishes prepared with the finest spices, freshest herbs and highest quality ingredients, OM takes Northern Indian fare to new heights, even incorporating local Southwest elements as well as Chinese dishes to create imaginative and sophisticated fusions of deliciousness.   There are two aspects of Indian cuisine at which OM exceeds.  One is in the use of spices, the true legacy of India’s culinary heritage.  While the primary function of spices is to enhance the flavor of food, it is experience and tradition which determine their optimal use, whether it be to season food, enhance its texture or introduce color.  The other aspect is in the preparation of sauces, each one designed to bring out the finest qualities of the ingredients on which they’re used.  

The other reason OM will, in short order, become a Duke City favorite is Paddy Rawal himself. A peripatetic presence, Paddy is the consummate host and a veritable whirling dervish who is seemingly everywhere at once. He wears the stains of spilled sauces on his chef’s coat as a badge of honor, evidence that he himself is preparing the incomparable cuisine himself. Expect him to check up on you frequently to ensure your dining experience is as good as it can be. Paddy is a very engaging, charming and modest fellow, quick to turn compliments about his cooking into something praiseworthy he noticed about you. Interacting with satisfied customers is imperative to him.

Stuffed Dried Fruit Naan and Chana Chaat with Mango Lasi

The OM menu offers an exciting culinary journey into superior taste and flavor, into subtle nuances and exotic complexity, into delicate spice blends and rich, creamy sauces.   All dishes can be ordered mild, medium, hot, hell or any variation thereof (medium plus for example). A daily lunch buffet–at a ridiculously low price considering the quality–features various vegetarian, vegan and meat dishes as well as rice, salad, naan and dessert.  Now if you’re sniggering at the seemingly contradictory notion of a fine dining restaurant offering a buffet, you’ll salute Paddy’s prowess at making all-you-can-eat a sublime offering.  With a menu that showcases vegetarian and vegan options as well as seafood and meat entrees, there truly is something for everyone at OM.

12 November 2012:  Thus far, Albuquerque’s favorite OM appetizer is chana chaat, one of the most popular of Indian street foods and not only because it can be served as a side dish, snack or salad. OM’s rendition combines chickpeas, cucumber, blueberries, whole wheat crisps, tomatoes, mint chutney and sweetened yoghurt. It’s a refreshing adventure in bright and lively flavors and textures, an absolute delight because so many flavors coalesce on your taste buds.  Those flavors are both contrasting and complementary, flavors that play off each other.

Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken (Bone-In Chicken, a Thigh and a Breast)

My mom, a tortillera in the most traditional sense  may disown me for this, but I’ve come to prefer naan to tortillas, even those she prepares with love on her seasoned comal.  OM offers nine varieties of naan, a flat, leavened bread made of white flour and baked in a tandoor; and roti, its wheat counterpart which is cooked on  a flat griddle. Now, three baskets of naan is far too many for a meal for two, but when you can’t make up your minds, order to your hearts’ content because you’ll have wonderful naan for later. Three distinctive varieties with which we fell in love are the rosemary-olive oil naan, stuffed cheese naan and stuffed dried fruit naan.  Each has its unique flavor profile with the commonality being a pinto pony-like char and a light burnishing with clarified butter (ghee).  Whether you nosh on the naan, dip it into a chutney or use it to sop up a superb sauce, you’ll savor every bite.

While Ancho and Amchur in combination may sound like a suppressed sneeze, they’re actually spices which Paddy employs.  New Mexicans are more familiar with Ancho, a powder made from a type of chile that lends a rich, subtle piquancy to foods.  Amchur, a greenish-yellowish powder of dried mangoes, lends the quality of fruity-sweetness, but not to a cloying degree.  The qualities of these two complementary spices are well in evidence on the Ancho-Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken.  The spices penetrate deeply into the bone-in thigh and breast, imparting a slight piquancy and tanginess to the tandoor grilling.  As if the moist, tender, delicious chicken isn’t wonderful enough, OM includes a sauce which also utilizes those spices.  It makes a terrific dipping sauce for the chicken or for the naan.

Seafood Korma (Scallops, Shrimp, Mahi Mahi, Cashew Cream Sauce)

Korma Sutra might be an appropriate descriptor for the Seafood Korma which just may have a foodgasm effect on your taste buds. Korma, a Northern Indian specialty, is a mild and creamy curry sauce with a distinctively rich, almost silky flavor.  The basis for Korma is a mixture of yoghurt, cream and pureed cashews blended with toasted spices.  OM prepares it to your specified level of piquancy, however, ask for any potency beyond  medium and you risk degrading the rich, complex flavors of the spice and sauce meld.  The seafood–scallops, shrimp and mahi mahi–is slowly simmered in the sauce so it’s infused with flavor.  This may well be the most memorable Korma dish I’ve had, besting my previous favorite from an Indian restaurant in London.  The portion size is generous so you’ll be taking some home.  You’ll luxuriate in the aromas that fill your kitchen.

Desserts, if you manage to save room for them, are outstanding!  The carrot pudding (halwa), a wonderfully unique dessert composed of grated carrots and ground nuts prepared in butter and boiled milk then lightly sweetened with raisins, is my early favorite.  Served warm, it showcases the natural sweetness of carrots while removing any residual bitterness.  At the other end of the spectrum texturally is mango kulfi, an Indian ice cream that is more dense and “more frozen” than American ice creams.  Besides mango, the most pronounced flavor comes from sweetened condensed milk complemented with cardamom.

Carrot Pudding and Mango “Kulfi” (House-made ice cream)

18 February 2013: Paddy pays tribute to the Land of Enchantment with a stuffed Poblano, a New Mexican-Indian fusion appetizer served with a side of mint-coriander chutney.  You’ll recognize the “innards” as the contents with which Indian Samosas are stuffed: spiced mashed potatoes and peas.  The Poblano barely registers on the Scoville Scale of piquancy, but the chutney seems to bring out whatever heat is inherent with the pepper.  While this is a nice dish, my native pride would have preferred a nicely roasted New Mexico Hatch green chile. 

As noted above, OM specializes in naan, the wonderful Indian flat bread prepared in a tandoor.  Roti is the whole wheat alternative, a wedge-shaped bread often found in Malaysian restaurants, too.  OM’s roti is quite good though not as moist and buttery as the naan.  Still, it’s not a bread any diner would kick off their plate.  As with naan, the roti goes very well with chutneys, especially the tamarind.

Stuffed Poblano with Mint-Coriander Chutney

Stuffed Poblano with Mint-Coriander Chutney

OM’s menu includes a number of Indian-Chinese fusion dishes.  Ask Paddy why he would combine the flavors of two ancient culinary traditions and he will remind you he’s a chef–not a chef who specializes in Indian food, but a chef formally trained in more than ten different cuisines.  He hopes someday to launch, perhaps in San Francisco, a restaurant showcasing a fusion of Italian and Indian food.  Paddy has already conceptualized several dishes he hopes to introduce to intrepid diners. 

You don’t have to be an adventurous diner to appreciate OM’s Chilli (SIC) Chicken, boneless chicken sauteed and cooked with ginger and garlic then finished in a tomato-based Szechuan sauce.  Appearances can be very deceptive.  At first glance you might think the crimson sauce will be as cloying as most Chinese sweet and sour sauces, but that’s certainly not the case.  The sauce has a savory-tart flavor profile, emphasizing the sour (but not overly so) aspects of sweet and sour.  The all white meat boneless chicken is tender and moist.  Vegetables–red and green peppers, onions–are perfectly prepared. 

Chilli Chicken

Chilli Chicken

Diners who enjoy Thai curry, but who don’t necessarily appreciate the qualities of Indian curry will almost certainly enjoy OM’s Chicken Madras, perhaps the one dish most responsible for winning over converts to Indian cuisine.  Named for the city of Madras, it’s a dish as varied as the hundreds of recipes from which it’s prepared.  This hearty tomato-based curry is redolent with the spices of curry leaves, ginger, mustard, coconut milk and peppercorn.  It can be prepared to the degree of heat you desire, but too much piquancy and you might not appreciate the richness and sophistication of the flavors.  Chicken Madras may be the perfect winter entree, as heart-warming an entree as your favorite winter soup. 

OM, by the way, is not an abbreviation.  It represents a mystical Sanskrit sound of Hindu origin, a sacred chant considered the “primordial seed” of the universe.  Om is considered the “root mantra” from which all other mantras emerge.  Ancient sages believed that through chanting om, one can experience the infinite within themselves. 

Chicken Madras

Chicken Madras

In 2012, Raaga was selected as one of the best new restaurants in America by Kunda Eats, the only restaurant in New Mexico honored. It will surprise absolutely no one if OM garners a similar accolade in 2013.  Duke City diners will beat a path to this restaurant, already one of the best in the city in any genre–and the path is familiar, too.  OM is located at the former site of Annapurna Ayurvedic Cuisine.

Paddy Rawal’s OM – Fine Indian Dining
7520 4th Street, N.W. Map.7bdfbaf
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 899-4423
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 February 2013
1st VISIT: 12 November 2012
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 24
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Chana Chaat, Ancho Amchur Crusted Tandoori Chicken, Seafood Korma, Carrot Pudding, Mango Kulfi, Mango Lassi,


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Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery – Taos, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery in Taos, New Mexico

In 1989, the tarantula hawk wasp was designated the official state insect of New Mexico, joining the roadrunner (state bird), whiptail lizard (state reptile),  spadefoot (state amphibian), Sandia Hairstreak (state butterfly),  Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout (state fish) and the black bear (state animal) as official symbols of our great state.  Ostensibly the state legislature put aside partisan politics and selected these symbols after carefully weighing all options.  A case could certainly have been made for the dragonfly to represent New Mexico.

 Not only is the dragonfly a ubiquitous presence–flitting fluidly and gracefully like tiny fairies attired in wardrobes of many colors–they are omnipresent in local lore and legend.  In The Boy Who Made Dragonfly A Zuni Myth retold by New Mexico’s eminent author Tony Hillerman, the dragonfly represents a messenger between children and the gods.  The Zuni consider the dragonfly a shamanistic creature with supernatural powers while to the Navajo, the dragonfly represents pure water.

The front dining room at Dragonfly

Anyone who’s ever observed these multi-colored frequent fliers as they perform such spectacular aerial feats as loop-the-loops and flying backwards can’t help but be held spellbound by their grace and beauty.  It’s no wonder so many birdwatchers have  become dragonfly watchers that dragonflies have come to be known as “the birders’ insect.”  Spellbound is a good term for describing the Dragonfly Cafe And Bakery in Taos about which Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate advises, “don’t even think about eating breakfast/brunch anywhere else.”

The Dragonfly Cafe and Bakery was founded in 1998 by Karen Todd, a transplanted Chicagoan with decades of experience in restaurants and bakeries.  A world traveler and culinary student, Karen is intimately acquainted with the cuisine of many cultures, influences of which are apparent in her restaurant’s eclectic menu.  On Monday nights, the Dragonfly offers an East Indian menu while on Wednesdays, tapas and wine flights are featured fare. She calls her delightful slice of gustatory heaven a “European-style cafe and bakery.”   That’s especially accurate in that the Dragonfly is the type of community gathering place in which friends congregate for good food, good conversation and good times.  In the winter they cozy up next to the adobe fireplace in the front dining room and in the summer, they enjoy the verdant flora, bubbling fountains and occasional dragonfly in the courtyard.

A steaming bowl of kale and potato soup

The Dragonfly prides itself in using the highest quality ingredients–procured locally and grown organically when available–and hormone- and antibiotic-free dairy and non-cured meats.  Seasonal produce is picked fresh from the chef’s garden or is produced by small, local growers.  In the off-season, produce is preserved and pickled for year-round use.  Included among the restaurant’s diverse staples are kimchee, smoked fish, mushrooms, eggplant, corned beef buffalo and an award-winning granola.  The Dragonfly has a full-service coffee bar with an assortment of gourmet Mighty Leaf teas, organic soy milk and house-made chai tea. 

As with other Taos restaurants, the Bohemian spirit is alive and well at the Dragonfly, a cafe which is both homey and unconventional.  It’s relaxed and informal with a “laissez faire” element that appeals to the counter-culturalist remnants of the 60s but won’t turn off the corporate suits–or my old-fashioned 82-year-young mom who managed to find something to love amidst a menu she found a bit strange.  Most will enjoy the colorful confines of the 1920s bungalow style adobe which originally served as a family home complete with gardens, livestock and an orchard on the back of the property.  

Bibimbop: Two eggs over easy with brown rice, vegetables, kim chee, scallions and garlic chili sauce

In May, 2002, it wasn’t the Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery’s culinary diversity which was on display, but its mastery of Southwest-inspired dishes.  The event was the Food Network’s Food Nation program hosted by chef glitterati Bobby Flay who was in town to celebrate northern New Mexico culture.   Chef-owner Karen Dodd feted the superstar chef with an hors d’oeuvres menu which included such savory starters as tiny calabacitas cups bulging with green chile and roasted red peppers; fresh yellow corn and oregano goat cheese and red chile mousse daubed on garlic crostini; lamb and green onion brochettes partnered to a red chile yogurt dipping sauce and smoked trout dotted with watercress and aïoli on white corn tortillas.  Sumptuous sweets included cornmeal-piñon-orange shortbread; red chile-infused chocolate truffles; and apricot brown butter bars. Flay was effusive in his appreciation.

The daily menu may not be quite as Southwest-centric, but it is no less exciting.  On the date of our inaugural visit, the lunch menu was wonderfully multifarious, a deliciously diverse melange of Korean, Greek, New Mexican, Moroccan and Cajun dishes.  The dinner menu we perused is even more exciting, not a carbon copy of the lunch menu albeit with higher prices and slightly bigger portions.  The breakfast and brunch menus are highly regarded by my friend Larry McGoldrick whose recommendation you can trust.

Gyros: Marinated lamb with tzatziki sauce, hummus, tomato, red onion, cucumber, olives, feta and pita bread

Because our inaugural visit was on a blustery winter day, a comforting bowl of soup was in order.  The soup of the day was a kale and potato soup, a variation on the traditional Portuguese caldo verde.  Our server apprised us that the soup was spicy in a manner reminiscent of garam masala, a spice blend that’s really the heart of many Indian dishes.  A brimming bowl arrived at our table steaming hot with tangles of kale floating atop a fragrant vegetable broth redolent with a bouquet of exotic spices.  The soup’s fragrance foretold the deliciousness of the heart-warming soup.

One of the most intriguing items on the menu was a unique interpretation of a dish which made my top ten list of dishes I had in 2011–bibimbap, a Korean dish which literally translates to “mixed meal” in part because it’s constructed from sundry items often already prepared. As with Korean bibimbap, Dragonfly’s version starts with a large bowl of brown rice at the bottom of the bowl.  Atop the rice are sundry vegetables–zucchini, broccoli, julienned carrots, scallions and more as well as a generous dollop of pleasantly piquant garlic chili sauce.  Two eggs prepared to your exacting specifications cover much of the dish.  Mixing the melange is not only fun, but introduces all the elements to each other, forming a wondrous deliciousness in every bite.  You can add chicken, tofu or steak to the bibimbap if you wish, but they’re wholly unnecessary.

Organic Chicken Pot Pie

Another well interpreted dish worthy of its Greek origin are gyros, marinated lamb nestled in a warm pita and served with tzatziki sauce, hummus, tomato, red onion, cucumber, feta cheese and olives.  Unlike that served on gyros at many a Greek restaurant, the lamb is not shaved from a vertical spit nor is it an amalgam of lamb and beef.  It’s wonderfully seasoned and marinated lamb reminiscent of the shawarma offered at the magnificent San Pedro Middle East Restaurant.  The garlicky hummus and tzatziki are excellent as well.

Somewhat less exotic, but very good “mom” food is the organic chicken pot pie.  Atop the crust is a dragonfly shaped cut-out also made of crust.  Puncture the crust and you’re greeted with wisps of fragrant steam enticing you further.  Fill your forks with a bit of crust and as creamy a pot pie concoction as you’ll find anywhere.  It’s resplendent with vegetables and not just the conventional carrots and potatoes.  Dragonfly’s pot pie includes sweet potatoes and other delicious surprises.  The organic chicken is plentiful and it’s cut into bite-size pieces so you’re not left wondering where the poultry went.

The dessert platter, a bevy of bakery deliciousness

Even if you’re left full from the generously portioned entrees, you’ve got to make room for one of the Dragonfly’s award-winning (“Best of Taos” in 2006, 2008 and 2009 according to the Taos News).  The bakery goods are fresh, homemade, healthy and made in-house using local organic flour, sweet cream butter and natural sweeteners.  No corn syrup or hydrogenated oils are used.  Your server will bring by a platter brimming with some of the bakery treasures: fruit galettes, tarts, brownies, cookies, chocolate eclairs, cheesecakes, bread pudding, coconut macaroons and truffles. Deciding what to have is nearly as challenging as some of the Taos Ski Valley’s exhilarating runs.

One of the most exciting is a white chocolate and cherry bread pudding, the best I’ve had in Taos county other than my mom’s caprirotada.  The warm gooeyness of the melting white chocolate, the tart-sweet cherries and the custard-like texture elevate this humble, moist dessert into an excellent rendition of my favorite dessert.  

The Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery is right at home in an area replete with art galleries and Karen Todd is every bit the artist as are  the much celebrated Taos art colony denizens.  Instead of a gallery, she creates her art in the kitchen.  Her restaurant and bakery are not to be missed.

Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery
402 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte
Taos, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 29 December 2011
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: *
COST: $$
BEST BET: Bibimbop, Lamb Gyros, Organic Chicken Pot Pie, Macaroon, Cherry & White Chocolate Bread Pudding, Dulce de Leche Tart

Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery on Urbanspoon

India Palace – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The India Palace, one of Albuquerque’s most popular Indian restaurants

When many of us think of romantic destinations to visit or in which to honeymoon, our choices probably mirror closely those of US News & World Report which listed among their 22 best honeymoon destinations such exotic locations as Kauai, Maui, Florence, Crete, Santorini and even Las Vegas, Nevada.  The authors apparently didn’t think enchantment is synonymous with romance or wedded  bliss because no New Mexico locations made the list,  Surprisingly, neither did any destination in India. 

Not everyone equates India with romance, but its ancient legends, history and monuments are rich with tales of profound love.  One of the world’s most far-famed love offerings is the opulent and ethereal Taj Mahal, built by a grieving emperor in memory of his dearly beloved wife and queen.  India also gave the world the Kama Sutra, an ancient Hindu text widely recognized as a definitive guide to the nature of love and the pleasure-oriented aspects of human life.  Hindus understood the importance of fore foreplay, paying significant attention to light, music, touch, smell, drink and food before moving on to carnal pleasures.

Preprandial pleasure: tamarind, onion and mint chutneys.

Preprandial pleasure: tamarind, onion and mint chutneys.

Sensual, tactile, pleasurable–those adjectives are probably used more frequently to describe the practices of the Kama Sutra, it wouldn’t be a stretch to apply those adjectives to an outstanding meal of Indian cuisine, maybe to add even more superlatives.  Those adjectives certainly apply to a meal at the Indian Palace on the southeast intersection of Wyoming and Montgomery in Albuquerque. Sensual certainly applies because the intoxicating aromas of exotic spices infiltrate olfactory senses which some physiologists indicate are a key to arousal.

Tactile is appropriate because you’ll keep your hands busy tearing off hunks of naan (Indian flat bread made from wheat with a slightly flaky crust baked in a tandoor) to dip into one of the restaurant’s wonderful chutneys. India Palace offers a variety of naan including an absolutely delicious garlic naan which is garnished with parsley and slightly moistened with ghee, the rich clarified butter prominent in Indian cuisine. Perhaps even better is the onion naan with bits of crunchy green onion baked right in.

Garlic Naan, some of Albuquerque’s best

As heretical as it may sound, there are times in which I believe naan is even better than the ubiquitous New Mexican tortilla with which I grew up. The India Palace bakes some of the best naan we’ve  had in New Mexico–naan which it’s easy to envision being used to sop up chile.  If naan can be compared, even if loosely, to the tortilla then poori is akin to New Mexico’s beloved sopaipilla.  Poori is a deep-fried whole wheat bread which puffs up as golden pillows of delicious goodness which just might have you longing for honey.

Another tactile pleasure begins shortly after you’re seated when a complementary plate of papadum (pictured above) accompanied by three stainless steel vessels of Indian chutneys is brought to your table. Papadum are crispy crackers somewhat resembling flattened taco shells, but far more brittle. They’re made with lentil flour and have a brittle texture, breaking easily so they can be dipped into the accompanying chutneys.

Poori, Deep-fried whole wheat bread

Indian chutney is usually prepared to be eaten fresh and as a genre, might be compared to the familiar salsas served throughout New Mexico. Authentic chutneys usually contain a significant amount of olfactory-arousing, tongue-tingling spices (including piquant green chili peppers) and center around a wide variety of vegetables or fruits. Among the most popular chutneys are a red onion chutney, a mint chutney and a fruity, semi-sweet tamarind chutney (all three pictured above).

Few things in life are as pleasurable as a meal of well prepared, perfectly seasoned Indian food and the India Palace is Albuquerque’s premier practitioner of that art. Lunch time is when the restaurant is most crowded with white- and blue-collar workers partaking of the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Mulligatawney, a melodic name for a savory soup.

Mulligatawney, a melodic name for a savory soup.

In the evening, everything is an order of magnitude (or more) better. That’s when you get the full India Palace treatment: subdued lighting, impeccably formal service, a nattily attired wait staff, perfectly aligned place settings, starched maroon napkins–and no buffet to tempt you away from the outstanding menu offerings.That dinner menu features several pages of traditional Indian favorites, about 70 choices in all. Whether your pleasure be appetizers, entrees or desserts, chances are you’ll enjoy whatever you order.

New Mexican   spice aficionados (not to mention fans of the Seinfeld “soup Nazi” episode) might want to start with the India Palace’s Mulligatawny (pictured above), a mildly spicy soup comprised of vegetables and nuts seasoned with curry powder and pepper then served with rice. It’s very flavorful though it can always be improved with even more pepper and a tad more salt.

Your best bet–dining with friends and sharing entrees

Among the entrees, the tandoori dishes, especially tandoori chicken, seem to be especially popular. Traditionally, tandoori cooking is done in a Tandoor, a clay oven which heats to temperatures in excess of 500 degrees and imprints meat with a smoky flavor. Meats are marinated in a mixture of spices, herbs and yogurt that permeate them with a distinctive red color.  At the Palace, the tandoori lamb, chicken and fish are all wonderful. A mixed tandoori grill entree includes a chicken breast, drumstick, sausage and prawn, all lavished with breathtaking spices. It’s the best way to sample a variety of palate pleasing meats.

Even if you think you don’t like Indian food and lamb in particular, the Sheek Kabob (pictured below) will win you over. It’s choice, minced lamb seasoned with mild spices (mint and ginger are easily discernable) and barbecued on skewers in a clay oven. It has the texture of sausage and little of the gaminess often associated with lamb dishes. It is simply one of the very best lamb dishes around.

Sheek Kabob with mattar paneer.

Sheek Kabob with mattar paneer.

Aficionados of piquant foods might also be drawn to the restaurant’s vindaloo offerings. This curry dish is prepared with tamarind paste, chile, pepper, vinegar and other seasonings to imbue it with a rich taste. The import of chili peppers in the 16th century by Portuguese traders led to the development of vindaloo dishes in Goa, a former Portuguese colony on the Indian coast. In the land of the Kama Sutra, the late-arriving chile pepper had a very significant impact on romance, earning repute as a powerful aphrodisiac (to be eaten, not rubbed on sensitive private parts).

The degree of heat at which vindaloo is served at Indian restaurants throughout the world ranges in restaurants from barely tepid by New Mexican chile standards to sheer delicious agony with enough heat to make grown adults weep. In fact, in some restaurants in London and even New York City, it’s almost a sport to see how piquant intrepid diners can stand their vindaloo.

Lamb vindaloo

Lamb vindaloo

Duke City diners need not worry about being overtaken by delicious fumes and overpowering heat. The vindaloo at the Indian Palace isn’t even as piquant as a bowl of chile at Sadie’s. You can ask for additional spices and chile to be added if you wish. Whatever your taste, the Palace serves a very good lamb vindaloo.  To quell a fiery tongue resultant from a particularly potent green chile, New Mexicans might turn to milk. Similarly, Indians will have a glass of room temperature lassi available as they consume the spiciest of vindaloo. Lassi is a creamy concoction made from milk and yogurt. Though it has soothing properties, it can also be quite filling.

Indian cuisine is very accommodating to vegetarian tastes with a variety of wonderful offerings all lavished with aromatic sauces: a tomato-based makhani sauce, a curry and green pea sauce called mattar (my favorite) and saag, made with gamy spinach. Many vegetarian dishes are prepared with paneer, an unaged cheese somewhat similar to pressed Ricotta. Mattar paneer and sag paneer as crafted at the India Palace might be good enough to convert carnivores to vegetarianism.

Gulab Jamun--you might swear you're tasting pancakes in syrup.

Gulab Jamun–you might swear you’re tasting pancakes in syrup.

For dessert, breakfast aficionados will appreciate gulab jamun (pictured at left) a dessert dish with a taste somewhat reminiscent of pancakes and hot syrup. Gulab Jamun is made of fried dough and covered in a sugar syrup flavored with cardamom seeds. If not for their donut hole appearance, these gems really might make you think you’re having pancakes in a thinned down syrup. They’re delicious. 

Another terrific dessert, particularly if you like paneer, is Rasmali, balls of paneer soaked in malai (clotted cream) flavored with cardamom and sprinkled with minced pistachios.  This dessert reminds me of the goat cheese we ate with syrup in Northern New Mexico.  It’s a wonderful combination of sweet and savory flavors bringing out the best in each other.  Unlike the gulab jamun, this isn’t an overly sweet dessert.

Rasmalai: Great dessert dish of paneer (farmer’s cheese) soaked in malai (clotted cream) flavored with cardamom.

While the India Palace can be a terrific precursor to a night of romance, it’s also a wonderful restaurant to share with friends and colleagues, especially if they’re from India.  My globe-trotting, gastronomically savvy friends Tushar Desai and Kannan Appuswamy give the India Palace a rousing endorsement.  They’re not impressed with Americanized Indian food and were surprised at the authenticity of most foods at the Palace.

India Palace
4410 Wyoming Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 5 October 2011
# OF VISITS: 13
CLOSED: May 2013
RATING: 22
COST: $$$
BEST BET:Tandoori, Chutney, naan, mattar paneer, Sheek Kabab, Lamb Vindaloo, Mulligatawny, Gulab Jamun, Poori, Rasmalai,

India Palace (Northeast) on Urbanspoon