Indian food may never overtake Mexican as the United States' favorite adopted spicy cuisine, but more Americans than ever are venturing into Indian restaurants.
India Palace in Medford is an ideal spot for Indian cuisine neophytes as well as savvy foodies to indulge in a range of dishes.
The restaurant is owned by husband-and-wife team Avtar Singh and Tammy Kaur. Singh does the cooking, preparing everything by hand, while Kaur is the gracious server, patiently explaining menu items and making sure diners always have enough beverages to douse the heat of the food.
They've owned the restaurant since 1996 and first met at an Indian restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"I can relate to a lot of people in our valley. People walk through the doors absolutely afraid to try Indian food," Kaur says, noting she felt the same way when she first ventured into the Bay Area restaurant.
When ordering, the India Palace's hotness scale goes from one to 10. Most Americans would find level four to be quite spicy.
The easiest entry point into Indian food is chicken tikka kebab ($14.95), boneless chunks of spicy marinated chicken cooked in a tandoor clay oven. The chicken comes out sizzling hot on a bed of sliced onions and bell peppers, trailing steam and mouth-watering aromas.
Arguably the most popular — and to me, delicious — dish is tikka masala, a spicy cream and tomato-based sauce combined with a choice of chicken, lamb, prawns or mahi ($13 - $14.) Top a bed of fragrant saffron rice (included) with the sauce and meat and dig in.
During a recent visit to India Palace, I also tried roasted king prawns cooked in the tandoor oven. The prawns were high quality with mild spices. I jazzed them up by dipping them in the sauce from the chicken tikka masala.
No Indian meal is complete without an order of naan, grilled flat bread that can be ordered as is, or with toppings like garlic.
Drink options include sodas to beat the heat, or hot or iced spicy chai tea. India Palace's chai comes pre-sweetened, while some restaurants serve the milk, spice and tea drink with packets of sugar on the side.
Any diners who aren't stuffed can try desserts that include mango ice cream, homemade chai ice cream that uses India Palace's own recipe or naan sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar ($2.75 - $3.50.)
India Palace is at 1250 Biddle Road, Suite D, in the Blue Sky Plaza, near the intersection of Biddle and East McAndrews roads.
Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, while dinner is served from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Call 541-776-3509 or see http://indiapalacemedford.com.
— Vickie Aldous