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54 Clifton Country Road, Clifton Park, 688-1548. Serving lunch (buffet) 11:45-2:30 Mon-Fri, noon-3 Sat-Sun; dinner 5-10 Mon-Sat, 5-9 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: northern and southern Indian

Entrťe price range: $7 (peas pillao) to $22 (tandoori salmon)

Ambiance: spacious and elegant




When the building went up 11 years ago as the Conservatory Grill, it was in the midst of a spacious wetland area and offered not only fine dining but also sanctuary from Clifton Parkís soulless commercial area. Now, the view from the restaurantís deck is clogged by a skyline that wasnít there a decade ago, and bears testament to the townís reckless growth (and many chain eateries).

It is an attractive building, its inside rendered all the more attractive by a careful redesign. It now houses the restaurant Zaika, which offers top-of-the-line Indian fare. That isnít surprising: The owner, Sonny Brar, was the manager at Sitar in Albany for 17 years. The interior design, including curtains, fabrics and relics from India, was created by his wife, Gauri, who chose colors that give a soothing feel to the high-ceilinged space.

Maybe this is the kind of fare that best suits the building. It is, after all, somewhat exotic for Clifton Park, and benefits from the provocative aromas. The name itself contributes exoticism: ďZaikaĒ is an Urdu word for flavor.

Youíll find your favorite flavors on the Zaika menu, along with some novelties. Tandoori wings ($8.25), for example, are a nifty twist on an American favorite. Stuffed puri (a deep-fried, puffy bread for $3.25) is another unusual starter.

Of course there are standard tandoori items, but the idea of baking salmon in the hot clay oven ($22) is especially appetizing. Chicken dishes dominate the menu and range from the rich and creamy chicken shahi korma ($18.50), in which the meat is paired with cashews, to chicken vindaloo ($18), one of the spicier preparations.

Lamb is also a strong seller, available in a curry, on a skewer, and in a more complicated mix of peppers, onions and tomatoes ($18.50 apiece), and in other dishes. (Even though lamb vindaloo isnít listed, itís something you can request.)

ďMy favorite meat is goat,Ē says Brar, who recommended goat bhuna ($18.50), a full-flavored combination of on-the-bone meat with peppers and onions, finished in a stew redolent of popular Indian herbs and spices (cumin, cardamom, cinnamon and the like), served with a side of Basmati rice. Let those who abjure the thought of eating goat meat stay innocent of the pleasure: Itís a surprisingly filling dish that I guarantee will yield another portion or two if youíre careful not to share it at the table. If you seek a more pungent preparation, itís available as a curry ($18.50), and Iím sure you can talk Brar into preparing it like any of the other popular meats.

Palak refers to spinach and is presented as a companion to several items, especially seafood (with shrimp, $19; cod, $18). Palak paneer, a favorite with my family, is a combination of spinach and a light-bodied Indian cheese. Youíll also find the cheese combined with peas (mattar paneer), peppers and onions (kadai paneer), or by itself in a cream sauce (shahi paneer, each of them $12.50), all of which are part of the dozen vegetarian items on the menu. Iím eager next time to try baingan bharta, a curry built around grilled eggplant.

One of the best vehicles for the artistry of Indian cookery is the labor-intensive biryani, a rice dish that demands a slow cooking process and a deft hand with the spices. Not surprisingly, goat biryani is featured here ($19.50). A different, somewhat simpler approach characterizes the pillao, again a forum for basmati rice and another primary ingredient. Zaika offers shrimp, lamb, chicken ($19.50, $18.50, $17.50), versions with vegetables ($9), or just peas ($7).

Less common items include southern Indian fare like dosa, a crisp (and very large) rice-flour crepe thatís served plain ($7.50) or stuffed with spicy potatoes ($9), in each case accompanied by an assortment of condiments. Uttapum is a lentil-and-rice-flour pancake ($7.50), and rice cakes (idli) and lentil cakes (vada) also are available ($4.50 apiece).

Not surprisingly, Zaika serves a lunch buffet. The $10 spread includes tandoori chicken, basmati rice, fresh naan, and a changing roster of selections that can include vegetable curry, mattar paneer, lamb rara (in a spicy tomato stew) and chicken curry, along with daal, salad, papadum and dessert. The weekend brunch ($13) is more extensive and includes a number of southern Indian selections.

As more and more Indian restaurants present themselves in the area, it gets more difficult to name a favorite. Brarís many years at Sitar show through his attention to detail in the comfort of the dining room and in the skilled, attractive presentation of the food.

It shouldnít be hard at this point to sell you on trying an Indian restaurant. What adds to the appeal here is the handsome building and friendly staff, which give a welcome touch of humanity to the built-up neighborhood.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


Tomorrow (Friday), New World Home Cooking Co. meets the Hundred-Mile Diet Challenge halfway with the restaurantís first special dinner for the fall: a 50-Mile Meal. All of the wine and center-of-the-plate items come from within that radius of the Saugerties eatery, and chef Ric Orlando will offer a menu that includes Storyís pumpkin-panang curry with Thai basil and local chiles (paired with a Brotherhood Riesling); Gary Wiltbankís Catskill oyster mushrooms with wide noodles, huitlacoche and Skipís poblano chile (Millbrook Chardonnay); Fleisherís braised pork shoulder in the Roman Style with Donís yellow polenta (Benmarl Frontenac); and much more, with vegetarian options available for all courses. The dinner starts at 7 PM, costs $55 per person (plus tax and tip) and requires reservations, so phone 845-246-0900. . . . Schenectady Greenmarket debuts from 10-2 on Sunday (Nov. 2) in Proctors Arcade, with plans to run every Sunday all year round. Look for fresh produce, meat and poultry, dairy products, flowers and plants, prepared foods, arts and crafts and more, not to mention the opportunity to socialize with like-minded shoppers. The market is still looking for vendors with any or all of the following: vegetables, fruit, meat, honey, maple syrup, jam, milk, cheese, eggs, baked goods, bedding plants, flowers, wine, processed food and high-quality crafts. More info at schen . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.

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