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Blue Royal Indian Cuisine is a treasure trove for culinary explorers

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Vegetable pakora are chickpea-battered, fried and served with mint and tamarind chutneys at Blue Royal Indian Cuisine in Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Garlic naan is one of nine types of freshly baked or fried breads at Blue Royal Indian Cuisine in Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Lamb “saag gosht” (left) and fish “koliwada” are served with rice at Blue Royal Indian Cuisine in Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Samosa, turnovers stuffed with potatoes and peas, are served with mint and tamarind chutneys at Blue Royal Indian Cuisine in Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Tandoori chicken is a sizzling specialty of Blue Royal Indian Cuisine in Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon.

The vast culinary canon of India couldn’t possibly be represented in a single restaurant. The new Blue Royal Indian Cuisine, however, makes an impressive effort with an almost encyclopedic menu and equally expansive dining room in East Medford.

Open since April 30, Blue Royal occupies the former site of India’s Kitchen in the Larson Creek Center on North Phoenix Road. Owner Rick Bagri has been in the Rogue Valley for about eight years, but this is his first restaurant, conceptualized with both a restaurant consultant and award-winning chef.

Chef Deepak Bhardwaj brings from the Sonoma, California, area nearly 100 menu items at Blue Royal. The chef is a double gold medal winner at the 2007 Sonoma County Harvest Fair, according to Blue Royal’s website. Both of his winning recipes — herb-marinated, pan-fried shrimp and a lamb chop cooked with pomegranate — are served at Blue Royal.

Months had passed since I’d enjoyed Indian restaurant fare, and I was craving the classics. I wanted a spread to entice my 6- and 8-year-old sons, too. So we ordered appetizers of vegetable pakora ($6) and samosa ($5), a tandoori chicken ($17) entree and freshly baked garlic naan ($4).

Because my younger son also requested lamb, I added “saag gosht” ($17), one of nine dishes under the menu’s “mutton” heading that also can be prepared with goat. I appreciate Blue Royal’s efforts to expose diners to this alternative meat that’s as eco-friendly as it is delicious. It should go without saying there’s no beef at Blue Royal.

A vegetarian’s paradise, Blue Royal boasts no fewer than 25 plant-based dishes, not including the selection of breads, which also touts gluten-free. Curious to compare regular bread to the alternative, we requested an order of gluten-free garlic naan ($5), only to hear it wasn’t available that evening. So I opted for variety with “parantha,” pan-cooked, whole-wheat bread ($3).

For our third entree, I consulted my sister, a fellow seafood aficionado, and she approved the fish “koliwada” ($16), described as hailing from a fisherman’s hub in Mubai and marrying “freshly pounded green sauce” to charbroiled fish. The menu also offers plenty of shrimp and chicken preparations, along with house-made paneer cheese, soups, salads and rice dishes — known as “biryani” — steamed in sealed clay pots with delicate spices.

The traditional Indian clay oven — “tandoor” — lends its name to a genre of yogurt-marinated meats, including the perennially popular tandoori chicken. Ours arrived in a flourish of steam and ceremony heaped on a sizzling metal platter over a wooden tray. Consisting of almost the entire chicken, the dish is an excellent value, affording a piece for each of four diners, plus a side of rice. My boys eagerly claimed their portions, juggling the bird between bites in hopes it would cool.

Enthusiasm also greeted the garlic naan, which comes in three wedges that only whetted our appetites for more. I’m glad we tried the parantha, which isn’t so widely represented at the region’s other Indian eateries. But next time, we’d stick with naan and request a double order.

We had vegetable pakora aplenty, and the boys both pronounced the chickpea-battered and fried array of vegetables “so good.” They didn’t need the mint and tamarind chutneys, which I loved, so much that we retained the dishes of sauce after the appetizers were gone.

The chutneys also are standard accompaniments to samosa stuffed with potatoes and peas, a consolation because lamb filling wasn’t available. I was surprised neither of the boys wanted more than a bite, but I agreed the iconic Indian turnover was my least favorite of the plates on our table.

An unexpected standout, the fish “koliwada” was quite likely the best dish I’ve eaten at any Indian restaurant locally and among the most conscientiously cooked fish I’ve encountered as a coastal native choosy about my seafood. Swimming in a vibrant, intensely flavored sauce, the delicate white-fleshed fillet was just firm enough to retain its form before melting in the mouth. Although not the most visually compelling dish, this is one I’d order again and again if I wasn’t convinced that chef Bhardwaj’s repertoire warrants more exploration.

The creamed spinach-based saag was a fine example of its genre but less distinctive when judged against the rest of the meal. My younger son took only a bite, believing he was getting lamb cooked medium-rare on the bone, as he’s accustomed to eating at home. Such refined tastes at such a tender age may inspire indulgence next time in Bhardwaj’s pomegranate lamb chop.

Stuffed almost to the gills, we skipped dessert but couldn’t leave without a few sips of mango lassi ($3.50), one beverage for the boys and I to share. Now that they’ve tried this yogurt drink flavored with rose syrup, I have no doubt they’ll clamor to come back to Blue Royal.

Open for dining on site, carryout and delivery at 970 N. Phoenix Road, Blue Royal has no outdoor seating. Hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. daily. Order online at blueroyalindiancuisine.com. Call 541-773-6800.

Tempo Tidbits

A “survivor kitchen” is cooking up the next Harry & David Hosted Dinner.

Downtown Market Co. owners have touted their new pandemic-inspired persona, including for a June 17 event, beginning at 6:30 p.m., in downtown Medford. The dinner complies with pandemic-related social distancing, says Rhonda Klug, head of Harry & David’s experiential marketing and community relations.

Tickets cost $65 per person. Reserve at harryanddavid.com/hosted-dinners/medford-or/downtown-market

Resuming indoor dining in May, the Market underwent remodeling to hold special events on the second floor, starting in July, and also laid foundations for resurrecting its Wednesday night dinner series, according to its website.

Hosted Dinners have been available to the public for about three years but were reimagined as virtual and outdoor events since 2020. The multicourse menus typically incorporate Harry & David prepared foods, including spreads, mustards, preserves, relishes and Moose Munch.

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High tea is one of the latest restaurants concepts to join Ashland’s ranks.

Lovejoy’s Tea Room opened in May at 96 N. Main St., the former location of Liquid Assets Wine Bar. The establishment is the latest to join Lovejoy’s enterprise, which also operates tea rooms in Portland, and Redwood City and Pacifica, California. Proprietors sold their original San Francisco location after 16 years.

Offering a “grand afternoon tea service” by reservation only, Lovejoy’s revels in its ambiance as a “cozy, quirky place filled with mismatched china and furniture — where handmade tea cozies, broken china mosaics and an eclectic assortment of collectibles will delight your eyes.”

Priced at $35 per person, the “queen’s tea” can be reserved between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. For guests under 10, “princess” and “prince” portions cost $25 apiece.

See lovejoystearoom-ashland.com. Call 541-708-6718.

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Inspectors for Jackson County Environmental Public Health in March resumed on-site evaluation of food service facilities offering indoor dining. The following restaurants in April received perfect scores of 100 on their semiannual inspections:

B&D’s Eatery & Deli, Prospect; Barbwire Grill, Eagle Point; Curb Your Appetite, Eagle Point; Hummingbird Estate, Central Point; Lucky’s II, Shady Cove; Mac’s Diner, Shady Cove; Pizza at the Cove, Shady Cove; Osprey Nest, Eagle Point; Other Guy’s Cascade Gorge Lounge, Prospect; Sweets-N-Eats, Jacksonville; The Talon Grill, Eagle Point; Upper Rogue Community Center, Shady Cove; Whiskey River Cafe & Lounge, Central Point.

The county’s searchable database of restaurant and food service inspections is at healthspace.com/Clients/Oregon/jackson/Web.nsf/home.xsp

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Have a Tempo tidbit to share? Email news about the local dining, food and beverage scene to: thewholedish@gmail.com

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Sarah Lemon has relished the Rogue Valley’s dining scene for nearly two decades as one of the original contributors to Tempo’s dining column. Her palate has helped to judge some of the region’s culinary competitions and festivals. The former editor of A la Carte, the Mail Tribune’s weekly food section, she writes a biweekly column, The Whole Dish, and blogs and podcasts under the same name. Listen at mailtribune.com/podcasts and read more at mailtribune.com/lifestyle/the-whole-dish. Follow @the.whole. dish on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.