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The India Palace: spices in flavorful harmony

The India Palace has been on my list of restaurants to try for some time. As a self-proclaimed spice addict, my mouth starts to water at the thought of all the delicious spices used in Indian cooking.

My sister, Chris, likes her food a little more bland, so it took some persuasion to convince her to join me on a recent night for dinner.

Owners Avtar and Tammy Singh opened the restaurant in 1996 when Indian food was unfamiliar to many. They have built up a steady clientele by providing flavorful authentic North Indian cuisine using a wide variety of spices, such as chili pepper, black mustard seed, cumin, tumeric, ginger, coriander and garlic.

Avtar, who is also executive chef, was born and raised in Punjab, India, and brings a Punjabi influence to his cooking with his use of clarified butter with liberal amounts of butter and cream. Tandoori cooking (roasting in a Tandoor clay oven) is also a Punjab specialty that is reflected in the range of Tandoori offerings of chicken, lamb, prawns and mixed-grill plates.

The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday, with lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 8 p.m., in the shopping center at the corner of Biddle and East McAndrews,

There is a special luncheon menu of Daily Lunch Plates that include two main entrées chosen from six meat and five vegetarian selections. A combination platter offers a choice of three entrées plus saffron rice, plain naan, golden veggie pakoras, salad and rice pudding. A sandwich wrap is also available with one entrée combined with saffron rice or spring salad mix and wrapped in traditional naan bread. We decided to try dinner, which had a more extensive menu.

The inside of the restaurant is painted a bubblegum pink on all of the walls. In the daylight, the pink was a little overwhelming, but as night fell and the indoor lights came on, the pink walls took on a very warm and inviting tone.

Our waitress, Melissa, seated us right away. She’s one of the friendliest waitresses I have met in a long time. She said she had been a customer of The India Palace for quite some time and really enjoyed both the food and the staff. When a waitress position became available, she went for it.

We had quite a few questions about the spiciness level of the various menu items. She explained that the spicy chart went from a Level 1 for mild all the way up to Level 10 — “eat at your own risk.” Level 3 was a popular level for spicy food. For dinner, you could request whichever spice level you felt you could handle. For lunch, the spice level was kept to a mild level for all dishes.

My sister was pleased that her dish had a mild level. I requested a Level 3, which definitely had a kick to it. I was glad that I had not gotten too cocky and requested more heat. Melissa told us they kept cold milk in the refrigerator as an antidote to “Spice Level Cockiness Syndrome.”

Chris ordered Prawns Korma ($15), which was prawns cooked in a sauce made of onions, tomatoes, green chiles, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves with cashew nut cream sauce. She praised her prawns as absolutely delicious. I ordered Chicken Biriyani ($25) with sautéed rice with curry and saffron garnished with raisins and cashews. My dinner came with a spring salad and garlic naan bread. I also ordered a glass of chardonnay to complement the spiciness of the dinner.

Our dinners also included mango ice cream for dessert. Melissa advised that they had run out of mango ice cream, but offered to substitute vanilla ice cream with a mango sauce and whipped cream topping. My dinner was flavorful with just the right amount of heat. I was pleased that the portions were generous so that I had some leftovers to take home and enjoy for another day.

If you enjoy flavorful dishes that combine various spices into a harmonious whole, give The India Palace a try.

The India Palace is at 1250 Biddle Road in Medford. For reservations, call 541-776-3508.

Prawns Korma with cashew nut cream sauce, Chicken Biriyani with sautéed rice with curry and saffron and garlic naan are delicious choices at The India Palace. Photo by Cheryl Pearson