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Wednesday, January 12, 2000

Stuffed naan, luscious lassi

Posted By on Wed, Jan 12, 2000 at 12:00 AM

Star of India’s small space (14 tables and booths) is attractive and the service is fine. The decor is tasteful (except for the moving picture of a flowing waterfall), with white tablecloths and Taj Mahal-shaped wooden cutouts along one wall.

A few dishes are quite good. A whole sautéed fish, which was a special one night, turned out to be tilapia, covered with green peppers and onions and surrounded by tomatoes and lemon. The crust was flavorful and the flesh sweet, nutty and fatty.

Mango lassi (mango juice mixed with either buttermilk or yogurt) was sublime, as it usually is. I took a chance on khulfi ("special flavor ice cream") and liked it: It’s shaped in a grooved column, with pistachios on top, and tastes a lot like condensed milk. Our server said it contained cardamon.

The three sauces that come with the appetizers – green coriander, red-brown tamarind and bright red chutney – are well made, and help to save the other dishes.

Other than these few dishes, however, the food is not particularly tasty. The menu includes no hotness guide, and we found the "medium" to be quite hot.

Take the puri, for example. It’s a hot and puffy fried bread which should be flaky, but instead is greasy. Or naan, a flat bread which at Star of India comes out dry and chewy. (This is less of a problem if you order the special naan stuffed with raisins, almonds and coconut. It’s sweet and good.)

Greasy is a recurring theme among the appetizers. The samosa, pakora and eggplant combination is a good deal, size-wise, but I’ve tasted better elsewhere. The samosa is a little oily; the eggplant has a bright red, crisp coating with a melted inside, and the proportions of eggplant and coating should be reversed. Better is onion bhajee, crisp outside, tender within.

Mulligatawny and dal (lentil) soups are not bad but not great. The mulligatawny, which appears housemade, tastes mostly of lentils; both float fried croutons.

We tried old standbys, lamb rogan josh and shrimp korma. Neither had a lot of flavor, except for the heat of the lamb, and there were few shrimp in the korma.

Chicken tikka was large and slightly spicy (always incongruous with that fire-engine red exterior), and juicier than most; this is a dish that often comes out dry.

On the vegetarian list, I tried sag paneer, "spinach and homemade cheese cooked in mildly spiced gravy," and found little cheese and lots of spice. When the only flavor you can taste is hot, something’s wrong.

Similarly with the cheeseball-in-syrup dessert, gulab jamon: it’s just pure sweet.

Given that so many other restaurants do a good or excellent job with Indian food, I don’t see why Star of India shouldn’t be able to do so, as well.

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