Perfectly puffy poori

Jan 26, 2000 at 12:00 am

Fans of the old Moti Mahal, once on Royal Oak’s Main Street, are passing the word that Abdul Noor is back in the restaurant business after a seven-year absence from the Detroit-area scene.

Priced out of Royal Oak by skyrocketing rents, Noor can now be found in a small and simple spot in Oak Park, with, he pledges, the same menu and the same chef – himself.

There may be something inspirational about this particular Greenfield Road strip mall, though you’d never guess it from the outside: Three of its restaurants serve exceptional food. (The other two are Pita Café, with Middle Eastern, and Royal Kubo, with Filipino.)

Noor does some of the Indian standards exceptionally well. Who would have expected to get excited about mulligatawny soup? Noor’s version is smooth and lemony, with perhaps a touch of – I’m guessing – cinnamon.

Western diners can seldom resist Indian breads – poori, paratha, chapati and the cracker-like papadam, all served hot. One evening our waiter brought seconds of the excellent deep-fried, puffed poori because the chef deemed our first portion "too small."

In fact, my favorite dish of all at Moughlai is the shrimp poori appetizer. The shrimp and vegetable mixture is rich and creamy, a different Indian flavor than I’ve encountered before. Portion sizes at Indian places tend to be smaller than at some other restaurants, where the helpings make you wonder if they’re used to feeding the Lions or the Red Wings. But Moughlai’s servings are a bit larger than most, with a higher proportion of meat in the meat dishes.

Lamb dansak, for example, a "Persian delight," is cooked with lentils and is not too spicy. Persian chicken biryani is a big plate that includes rice, tomato, cucumber and coconut with a fried / scrambled egg on top, a version of Chinese fried rice moved west and south.

My experience is that tandoori is the Indian meal of choice for those who’d really prefer to be someplace else (not me). At Moughlai, the tandoori mixed grill includes shrimp – there’s lots of shrimp on this menu – as well as chicken and deep-red, spicy lamb kebabs. It’s a little dry, like most tandoori, but also more flavorful than most.

Not all dishes are better than average – although, if you like Indian food, average is still a treat. Salads are iceberg, but with a good, creamy, peppery dressing. Service can be slow, although it’s always gracious.

A cut above the norm are the desserts. You can get a slice of mango with cream, or khulfi, mango-flavored ice cream. Best bet may be the mango lassi, a thick, peach-colored yogurt shake. I always order one for here and one to go.

I find that I’m often the only person in my party to order gulapjamun, a non-mango dessert. Some seem to find the description – deep-fried cheese ball in honey sauce – unappealing. But Noor’s version is way more flavorful than most, with a dark sugar taste that’s more complex than just "very sweet." And you get two balls instead of one.

Open seven days, with a bargain buffet lunch on weekdays.