And so I was delighted by two visits to Shingaar Palace, an Indian newcomer in Chambodia's Embry Hills section. Service at the large, comfortable establishment is elegant and assured yet entirely up-to-date. Welcomes include slight bows but no fawning. Orders are written on pads then fed into computer terminals. Food and plates arrive at a proper pace -- and at the right temperatures. Hot entrées and vegetables are served in pretty copper pans set over candle flames so that they stay hot until the meal is finished. Beer, wine, a full bar and a lunch buffet are offered.
Although I came away with one or two reservations about the food -- dry, tough cubes of lamb in the rogan josh and scorched, leathery alloo paratha bread -- the complexity of the curry sauces combined with the forthright simplicity of several appetizers and desserts won me over. Right now, Shingaar Palace is on my short list of places to return to soon and often.
Were I not always working -- combing through menus for fresh treats and tired tries -- I'd start my next meal with another serving of haryali kabab, mashed potato cakes laced with cottage cheese and spinach ($3.25 for four). Light as biscuits, flavorful and equipped with thin, buttery crusts, the home-style cakes are perfect foils for testing the spicy mint, red onion and sweet-and-sour tamarind chutneys provided. (So are wedges of the crisp papadum wafers that arrive with the sauces.)
Lakhnawi kabab, marinated, charcoal-grilled chicken drumsticks wrapped in foil panties for eating by hand, are particularly good with the tamarind sauce ($4.95 for four). Next time, I'll also ask for paneer pakora (chickpea cheese fritters) and papdi (crackers topped with diced potatoes and sprouted mung beans).
I'll also order more vegetable dishes than meat or fish. Baingan bhartha, baked eggplant that's been shredded, mashed and sautéed with onions, ginger and tomatoes, is itself a classic. The version served at Shingaar Palace is rich, complex and pleasing ($9.95). Navrattan korma, mixed seasonal vegetables in a cashew and almond sauce with white raisins, tasted almost as good, despite a less than memorable assortment of vegetables ($8.95).
Spice levels are judiciously low -- too low in some cases -- but can be modified if one's wants (or tolerance) are made known. Despite tough lamb, the yogurt-saffron-based rogan josh Kashmiri sauce worked fine for me -- whatever Madhur Joffrey (the Indian Julia Child) might say. Other people may need more heat ($10.95).
Goan fish curry, an unusual coconut-based stew, is mildly spiced by intention. That worked well with the cut of fresh salmon ($10.95). Though the sweet slice of fish was on the small side, I added extra points nonetheless because, unlike other places around town, the chef did not try to fill out the plate with sliced bell peppers and onions.
Aromatic basmati rice, every grain separate, is included with entrées. Next time, I want to add a tandoori platter -- perhaps grilled lamb chops or chicken -- and vegetable dumplings with cottage cheese and raisins (malai kofta) cooked in cream. I'll stick with garlic naan, homemade white bread stuffed and topped with chopped garlic ($2.95). Folks on first dates beware. This one's garlicky enough for a steakhouse.
Finally, don't miss the kheer, creamy rice pudding flavored with cardamom, almonds, raisins and pistachios, served cold in an oblong dish ($2.50).
On my first trip to the restaurant, a burly, thirtysomething man, his perky wife and two small daughters seemed to have ordered everything on the menu. On the way out, the man said they were on a return visit, and that the children liked the food a lot. Same table, next trip: A young forties dad with teenage quarterback plowed through three very full courses in about 20 fully described plays and wiped their dishes clean.
Despite the presence of several other families, groups and duos, the restaurant was not full on either night. That's too bad because Shingaar Palace currently offers what may be the city's best combination of authentic Indian food and agreeable service. For lovers of things Indian, it's worth a long drive across town.
Shingaar Palace, North Hill Plaza, 3364-H Chamblee Tucker Road, Chamblee. 770-458-4466. Open daily 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Cash and credit cards accepted.
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