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Photo by: Ellen Descisciolo

New Korma on the Block
By B.A. Nilsson

Haweli
1 Ballston Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-2004. Serving lunch daily 11:30-3, dinner Sun-Thu 5-10, Fri-Sat 5-11. AE, D, MC, V.
Cuisine: typical Indian
Entrée price range: $9 (many vegetarian dishes) to $16 (the huge Haweli special)
Ambiance: charmingly casual
Clientele: local fans of the cuisine

Indian dining remains in comparative infancy in the Capital Region—if not in most of the country—and seems to be similar to the state of Chinese restaurants four decades ago. A narrow slice of a wide-ranging cuisine appears to represent that cuisine in its entirety, and that’s fine as far as it goes (provided it’s presented with some authenticity), but once we moved from Cantonese fare into the cooking of the Hunan and Szechuan regions, Chinese restaurants became far more interesting.

There’s little difference in the menus from one Indian restaurant to the next: Most center in the Punjab region in the north. This was the food of royalty, so I suppose we’re being honored, but I’ve seen few local attempts to broaden the geographical range, and those restaurants that attempted to do so were short-lived.

Obviously, we need to cling to the familiar for a while longer, but we’ve come a long way in the last 20 years in terms of wide- (or at least wider-) spread acceptance of the unique flavors of this cuisine. Back when the Sitar restaurant was the only game in town, the owner noted the difficulty of persuading potential customers that all Indian fare wasn’t oppressively spicy.

Now that we’re well beyond that, we’ve got an impressive array of restaurants to choose from, the newest addition Saratoga’s second such: Haweli, located in a former KFC but redecorated to a fare-thee-well. Little India, a few blocks down Broadway, has held sway for the past 10 years with consistently good food but variable service; now Haweli duplicates that in a more attractive location.

Kudos first off to Engineering America for its redesign of the place, which includes landscaping that nicely obscures the intersection of Routes 50 and 9. The small dining room is warm and accommodating with a deft use of color to set off the walls and windows.

Unless you’re a vegetarian, you can’t go wrong starting with the Haweli Medley ($6), an array of kebabs, pakoras and samosas, the last two variants of fritters—the former batter-coated, the latter fried in a pastry shell. Because I dined with a meat-eschewing friend during one of my visits, we sampled the vegetarian array (cheaper, too, at $5), which leaves out the kebab bits but adds aloo tikki, fried potato-wrapped veggies. Both samplers also come with papadum, flat lentil wafers that you can dip in the accompanying trio of sauces: a fiery onion relish, a more mellow mint sauce, and a dark, piquant tamarind sauce.

Most of the appetizer list is drawn from the above, priced from $2-$6, but there’s the unusual addition of chicken wings cooked in the tandoor oven ($5), which will be juicier than any of the mainstream versions.

A long list of vegetarian items dominates the entrée list, including the always popular palak paneer ($10), a creamy mixture of spinach and Indian cheese that’s in such demand in my family that I’ve learned to prepare it at home, and aloo channa ($9), mixing chick peas and potatoes in a not-too-spicy tomato sauce. Vegetarian entrées run $9 to $11, and, like all entrées, include a side of basmati rice.

My own taste runs to the very spicy, and I was pleased with lamb vindaloo, in which a deft touch of sweetness delays the impact of the heat. Even though I noted my heat-scale preference, however, it wasn’t terribly challenging although the flavors were wonderful, the lamb appropriately tender.

Beef, chicken and seafood dishes run the typical array, with curries, the tomato-based masala, and the stewlike kadahi among the preparations. These are $10-$14, pricing that’s in line with the other white-linen Indian restaurants in the area. Thanks to the clay oven that’s visible from the floor, my daughter was able to order her favorite, tandoori chicken ($13), which arrives sizzling on a platter also heaped with onions and green peppers.

And you have to accompany your food with nan, the tandoor-cooked flatbread that’s available plain or with a variety of added ingredients.

The most compelling dishes, to my palate, are the biryani, a time-consuming rice-based mixture featuring the meat of your choice or a vegetable mix ($9-$12, $19 for two), with nuts and raisins and a pleasing array of spices that seems to inhabit and enhance the main ingredient. I had the lamb version and marveled at how the familiar flavor burst the borders of its frame and colored so many more taste bud areas.

Haweli also offers a take-out menu, which duplicates what you’ll order from when dining in. During our August visit, we saw a fair amount of take-out go by. Service is conscientious but not consistent; while my first visit started slowly and picked up speed toward the end, my second slowed as the dining room thinned, until we had to make a maddening search for a server in order to get a check.

With more consistent service, this will be one of the best of its kind in the area. But I think—I hope—we’re on the brink of something new in Indian cookery. It’s ripe for a touch of fusion, and a brief Internet search found just such a menu that includes such dishes as chicken chili dosa, uttapam pizza and Mumbai masala tacos. I think we’re ready for this.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.

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Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I 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.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, 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 the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I 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!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your 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..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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