by: Joe Putrock
Tip for the Tongue
423 Madison (at Lark), Albany, 463-4123. Mon-Thu 11-10:30,
Fri 11-11, Sat noon-11, Sun noon-10. D, MC, V.
Entrée price range: $5.50 (aloo gobi and many others)
to $11 (Tandoori shrimp)
Ambiance: nothing fancy
Clientele: bargain hunters
They’ve become of a piece, these Indian restaurants. While
there are a few exceptions, like Sitar’s fine-dining approach,
most offer a buffet lunch and a dinner menu as standardized
as any McDonald’s. Glass-topped tables, cursory decor, perhaps
a Bollywood video or at least some characteristic music. Corelle
dinnerware, paper napkins—from the house standpoint, it’s
not a budget buster. Where does that put you, then, in the
greater overall dining experience?
It all depends on your enthusiasm for this cuisine. What we
think of as Indian food, as presented by a decades-old restaurant
tradition, comes from the Punjab region and includes recipes
from what’s now Pakistan.
Heavy on spices and sauces, it acquired an unfair rep as something
merely spicy (in the sense of mouth heat) and has taken a
while to remind us that the true meaning of all those spices
is not some form of oral intrusion but rather a deft and studied
blend of substances intended to promote the body’s harmony
Besides, we’ve gotten used to food that’s more heat-spicy
than our parents preferred. If you haven’t, if you’re cautious
about it, it’s time for your initiation. Visit Tandoor Palace
and order the lamb vindaloo ($7). You’ll be cautioned that
it’s spicy. Yes, you’ll say. Bring it on.
You’ll be served a dish of rice and a dish of what looks like
lamb stew, to combine as you wish on your plate. The first
forkful will be your alert, a summons to the taste buds. “Alert!”
the cry is sounded. Something unprecedented is happening within!
You’ll savor the sweetness of the sauce, the richness of the
lamb’s distinctive flavor.
It’s the second forkful that sets the alarms ringing. Actually,
that first bite was a Trojan horse, delivering its payload
of heat while the sugars kept your mouth distracted.
You will become aware of body parts you’d never before thought
to study. The esophagus, for instance, will reveal itself
by the warmth of the material passing through. The tongue
will take on the dimension and characteristics of an old-fashioned
window shade, first by asserting a surface area far in excess
of what you expected, every pore now dancing with heat, and
then, as the heat really kicks in, by acting as if on a spring-loaded
release, hurtling up and back into your mouth while making
a wocketa-wocketa-wocketa sound. Your lips will turn surprisingly
numb, preventing you from feeling the waterfall of perspiration
coursing down from your forehead.
Pause for a moment. Reflect on the fact that your body isn’t
really on fire. It just never learned how to deal with capsaicin,
the pepper-contained chemical that causes this response, and
when the body is confused, it suggests that the sensation
is pain. And it’s at that very moment releasing a dose of
pleasurable endorphins that will shortly calm your troubled
Meanwhile, take a sip of mango lassi, a yogurt-based beverage
that soothes the fiery palate. Here’s the most important part:
Go back in the trenches. Dose yourself again. Keep doing it
until you’ve polished off at least half of the helping.
The heat drops away; you’re in a sensory free fall. The addictive
quality of those endorphins—well known to runners—will draw
you back to spicy food.
Not that you have to sear your mouth to enjoy the food here.
Lamb qorma ($8), for instance, gives you braised chunks
of lamb in a cream-rich sauce flavored with almonds and cashews,
with a side dish of rice. Five other qorma preparations
apply a similar sauce to other meats and vegetables.
This is a great source of meatless items, with wonderful use
of spinach, chick peas, cauliflower, eggplant and much more.
And don’t overlook the classic dal preparations, such
as masoor dal ($5.50), a buttery lentil stew that makes
a nice accompaniment for a spicy meat dish.
There’s a tandoor oven, of course, and the meat that emerges
from it is tender and moist. The chicken ($7), with its striking
red coloring, proved a good example of that, arriving on a
sizzling platter with a heap of onion and pepper slices to
brace the lemony bird.
($1.25), the flat but puffy bread, is also baked in that hot
clay oven; I like it plain to push around my sauce-covered
plate, but you can get it, for a dollar or more extra, with
added potatoes or a combo of fruit and nuts. Puri ($1.25),
a puffy wheat bread, arrived at our table already deflated,
which was unfortunate.
As you already may know from the lunch buffet, you can make
a meal just from appetizers. Pakoras are a type of
fritter dipped in a chick-pea-flour-based batter; samosas
are vegetables (potatoes and peas seem most popular) wrapped
in pastry and deep-fried. They should replace the fried mozzarella
sticks and suchlike on bar menus.
Because the appetizer ka-chori ($3) is billed as “too
difficult to put into words,” we tried it and found a flavorful
compote of chickpeas, greens, and something fried, covered
with a sweet tamarind sauce and a pungent yogurt sauce. It
would make a nice summer meal.
The food here is definitely on a par with what you find elsewhere
in the area, and, if the place seems a little more humble
in the decor department, the prices are suitably lower to
match. Solve the parking problem in this busy neighborhood
and you’ll be assured of a satisfying meal.
Table scraps: New chef? New menu? New restaurant? Or do you
have an unusual special event coming up? Send us your scraps!
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very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..