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Martin Benjaminn

Out of India
By B.A. Nilsson

Royal Palace
Scottish Inn, 2788 Hamburg St., Rotterdam. 355-1111. Serving lunch daily 11:30-3, dinner Sun-Thu 5-10, Fri-Sat 5-11. MC, V.

Cuisine: Standard Indian fare
Entrée price range: $7 (vegetable biryani) to $20 (mixed tandoori grill)
Ambience: Hotel banquet room
Clientele: Enlightened diners

Royal Palace is a bright spot on Schenectady’s otherwise unadventurous cuisine profile—actually the second Indian restaurant in the county and the first in the Rotterdam area. It’s part of a hotel, one that used to be a Best Western and is now the Scottish Inn and Suites.

Two different dining experiences await. The first (in the sense of being earlier in the day) is a $9 lunch buffet, served daily. This is a bit higher priced than some other Indian buffets you’ll find, but there’s some justification: Each table is served a basket of hot nan, the popular flatbread, as well as a platter of sizzling tandoori chicken, fresh from the hot clay oven.

From there, you’ll find a longer-than-usual buffet line of chafing-dish-warmed selections, including vegetable items like pakoras, dal (a seasoned lentil stew), basmati rice, undistinguished green salad, masala baigan (an eggplant dish) and vegetable jalfrazie (in this case, string beans and carrots with Indian cheese), such meatstuffs as lamb korma (“creamy, creamy, creamy,” extols the menu, “a mild sweetheart’s special”) and chicken tikka masala. There’s also fruit salad and Indian rice pudding for dessert.

The buffet is commendable for its generosity, but it suffers—especially over those wimpy flames—in terms of temperature and texture. Unless they sit in a bath of very hot water, dishes chill and congeal quickly. Nevertheless, it’s a bargain-priced way to get familiar with a wide range of Indian items.

At dinner, a plate of papadum is your on-the-house starter, something that was once the custom at other area Indian restaurants but by and large has been abandoned. These are crisp, parchment-thin lentil wafers, often presented, as here, with sides of tamarind sauce, onion chutney and mint sauce. The humid, hot weather had played havoc with the wafers, however, rendering them limp, a condition that wasn’t cured by the dining room’s chilly blasts of air conditioning.

“You never had it before,” the menu listing advises in describing chicken pakoras ($6), an appetizer. Pakoras are deep-fried treats often sold streetside in India, consisting of comestible morsels coated with a chickpea-flour-based batter. At Royal Palace, they’re available with such fillings as cheese (paneer) and vegetables, and they appear on the Royal Medley ($8), which also includes samosas (potato-stuffed turnovers, available separately for $5), sheekh kabab (ground spiced lamb) and chicken tikka, which are yogurt-sauced morsels zapped in the tandoor oven.

Fairly standard stuff, but the appetizer listing includes unusual fare like puri, a puffed wheat bread, stuffed with shrimp ($7) or chickpeas ($5), and even tandoori scallops ($8).

The four soups include mulligatawny or spinach ($3 each); tandoori chicken salad ($7) and the delicious dahi bhalla (lentil dumplings in a yogurt sauce, $5) number among the side dishes.

We found the large dining room not very changed since its days as the Rib and Seafood House. Indian artwork and artifacts now hang on the walls, but it’s otherwise banquet-room drab with a view of the indoor pool to one side.

A large party occupied a series of pushed-together tables, and a dinner buffet had been set for them; otherwise, most of the other diners were Indian, and that was very much the case when I stopped back for a lunch visit a few days later.

Dinner selections don’t stray much from the Indian norm, although the pricing is a little higher. Tandoori preparations of meat and seafood range from $11 to $20 (the last being a mixed grill), chicken dishes are $12 to $16 and the lamb dishes top out at $19 for the lamb chop muglai, mixing cashew nuts with a curry sauce.

Duck masala ($17) is a dish from Goa, and carries a heat-level warning that turned out to be nonsense. It was flavorful, and the duck meat takes those spices well, but there was less heat to it than with an order of palak paneer, a spinach and cheese dish finished in a creamy sauce that’s a big favorite with my family.

These recipes take familiar items and enhance them with spices, some of them dry roasted, others added as the dish cooks. So the vegetable-based entrées have additives like tamarind and the curry spices, a very mouth-pleasing array to choose from, priced from $9 to $12.

If you’re feeling expansive, try a combo platter. The $16 royal thali gives a mixture of chicken and lamb dishes along with sides of vegetables, dal, and rice. Fourteen dollars gets the vegetarian version, and for $19 you can get the seafood mix.

But take note of the biryani dishes, in which basmati rice is gently flavored and baked with added components like chicken or lamb, shrimp or vegetables. These are wonderful all-in-one entrées that prove very satisfying.

Service is attentive, and I got the feeling on both visits that the staff and management are eager to please. Based on the business that this recently opened restaurant already enjoys, I can see that a niche has been filled. With an eye toward improving the quality and consistency of the food, Royal Palace can enjoy a long life at this location.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Schenectady Day Nursery’s third annual Lobster & Steak Fest takes place from 5 until 8 PM on Aug. 14 at the Picnic Pavilion in Schenectady’s Central Park, Schenectady. Enjoy a 20-ounce lobster or 14-ounce steak along with potatoes, corn, a drink and dessert for $35 ($30 if you buy your ticket in advance). There’s even a surf-and-turf option that gets you both lobster and steak for $60 ($50 in advance). A hotdog meal is $5, and participants may eat in or take out. Entertainment by fiddlers Jane Rothfield and Allan Carr will be featured during dinner. You can buy tickets in advance at the Niskayuna or Eastern Parkway Price Choppers. For more info, call 378-3360. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@banilsson.com). (food@banilsson.com).

—B.A.N.

(Please fax info to 922-7090)

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