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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Familiar Name, Familiar Quality

By B.A. Nilsson

 

Shalimar

Delaware Plaza, 180 Delaware Ave., Delmar, 439-4200, goshalimar.com. Serving 11:30-10 Mon-Fri, noon-10 Sat-Sun. Shali lunch buffet served 11:30-2:30 Mon-Fri, noon-3 Sat-Sun. AE, D, MC, V..

Cuisine: Indian and Pakistani

Entrťe price range: $9 (palak aloo) to $14 (shrimp masala)

Ambiance: strip mall

Even as downtown Albanyís Shalimar eased its shutters closed last Halloween, we became aware of the newest Shalimar, nestled in Delaware Plaza, which had quietly opened a few months previously. That was a long stretch in Albany, something like a dozen and a half years, and the Delmar version has none of what made the Central Avenue spot unique. In other words, in Delmar youíll find things like a large parking lot and ambiance.

Well, thereís not a tremendous amount of the latter, but it has what it needs for a place thatís bargain-priced and fits the strip-mall location well. The menu features nothing more than whatís been established decades ago as the American standard for Indian-Pakistani fare, a collection of Punjabi favorites that place curries and other sauce-rich items alongside tandoor oven-roasted meats and bread.

At home, Iíve been preparing a lot of dinners with free-range or otherwise politically correct meatstuffs, grilling or roasting them in such a way as to bring out the most natural flavor. But on the road, Iím a sucker for an Indian meal, where entrťes are as much about the herbs and spices as the meat or vegetables buried within. Which is no disparagement. The most appealing Indian cookery creates a balance of flavor thatís also kinetic, dishes seasoned to allow a range of complementary sensations to play across the palate. The snap of cloves or cinnamon gives way to the earthier flavors of turmeric and cumin, with garlic and cardamom rising in a great sensory swell behind. Itís geared, when done right, to the particular item being enhanced. Meaning a vegetable curry should have a different bouquet than one built around lamb chunks. Nothing escapes some manner of this treatment. Even the tandoori shrimp ($14) or chicken ($11) gets a coating of a yogurt-based sauce before hitting the hot clay oven.

My family and I visited early on a recent Friday evening, were warmly greeted and efficiently served. Thereís nothing fancy about the tables and decor, although a large mural will inspire some study.

Appetizers are attractively priced, with potato-and-pea-filled samosa for $3, pakora ditto and pappadum (lentil-flour wafers) for $2.75 and a combo of all three for $5. A cold mix of chick peas, potatoes and crushed but crunchy samosa in a yogurt sauce is $5, and itís an unusually spicy dish for whatís otherwise tempered into Food for Nervous Americans. As such, it was especially delicious.

This deflected me from my usual pursuit of a vindaloo dish, a preparation that came to Indiaís Goa region by way of Portugal, and which celebrates a high threshold of heat. Instead, I chose beef biryani ($12), a rice-based preparation of Persian origin in which the rice is cooked separately from its curried accompaniment. An old test for the effectiveness of the preparation is to drop a clump of it on the floor. Itís correct if none of the rice sticks together.

I wasnít prepared to do this test in the restaurant, but I was pleased with the vibrancy of the dishís flavor. This is a quality that set our Shalimar meal apart from many other Indian dinners: There was a sense of immediacy, of brightness about the seasonings.

A long list of chicken dishes includes chicken palak ($10), combining the poultry with spinach and saucing it with a combo of aromatic spices. It was mild enough to please my palate-wimpy wife, aggressive enough to fill out the taste place in all other respects. Other dishes in that list include chicken tikka masala (cream sauce, peppers and onions, $11), chicken curry ($10), chicken do piazza (with onions and tomatoes, $10) and chicken Karahi (onions, tomatoes and hot peppers, $10).

These preparations inform the lamb dishes as well, with similar prices. Look also for lamb Madras, a spicy dish ($10) and lamb bhuna ($10) in which the marinated meat is cooked with onions, ginger and garlic. Ginger figures strongly in the lamb rogan josh ($11), which we sampled. Large slivers of ginger decorated the top of the dish, which otherwise features a blend of curry spices and a thick sauce.

Several similar shrimp or salmon preparations are available, and thereís a long list of vegetable-based items. We added an order of regular naan ($1.75) for the wimpy palates, and naan stuffed with jalapenos and cheese ($3) for me.

Another way to enjoy the food is via the lunch buffet, which is served daily from 11:30 to 2 (noon to 3 on weekends).

Now, letís straighten out who belongs to which of the various Shalimars in the area. Qasim Bhatti opened Albanyís Shalimar in 1991, kicking it all off, and soon thereafter opened the Shalimar in Troy. Bhatti sold both businesses in 2004. Troy remains independently owned; Albany went to Leo Ashiq, a family member. Ashiq opened the Shalimars in Clifton Park and Delmar. But he sold his interest in Albany back to Bhatti, who is continuing to run the restaurant under the name LaZeez. Bhatti also owns a just-opened Shalimar in Latham, which took over the space occupied by the Afghan Grill in Peter Harris Plaza.

Ashiq is also negotiating to open Shalimars in Schenectady and Guilderland, which would make for an impressive area spread of Shalimars alone, never mind the many other Indian restaurants now in business here. And thatís not a bad thing at all.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Schenectady Day Nurseryís 11th annual fundraising event, ďA Little Bit of Jazz & More,Ē will take place from 5:30 to 8 today (Thursday, April 29) in the Fenimore Gallery at Proctors Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady). The ďmoreĒ part of the proceedings includes a cornucopia of food, including a carving station with turkey breast and roast beef, a pasta station, an hors díoeuvres display and, if you donít want to fetch your food, circulating trays with even more hors díoeuvres, including sesame chicken, a Mediterranean artichoke tart, shrimp Wellington, spanakopita and more. There will be complimentary beer and wine and Chocolates by Lindt. The jazz part is a performance by Colleen Pratt and Friends. The event includes a benefit drawing with a choice of a $500 gift card at either Town TV or Empress Travel, and gift baskets sponsored by the Schenectady Day Nursery Board of Directors. Reservations are $50 per person or $100 for honorary committee status, and may be made by calling Jim Kalohn at 894-6305. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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