AN OLD FRIEND from college, a self-proclaimed filmmaker and student of righteous living, used to frequent a costly vegetarian/ayurvedic Indian restaurant in town. She would extol its wondrous effects with five-syllable words for as long as anyone would listen. We thought she had too much money and too many pretensions for her own good; both she and her favorite restaurant have since disappeared. While I haven't found anyone to take her place (although the ayurvedic nightmares have finally ceased), The Moghals is a most welcome replacement for her favorite dining spot, which used to occupy the same Lake Street digs.
The dining room is a most comfortable place, with chandeliers and red drapes for elegance and high ceilings, painted screens, and lattice-covered windows for shutting out the more obtrusive elements of the surrounding Western world--like, say, the neon glare of the nearby Arby's. The drifting sitar music does a fine job of drowning out the conversation from other tables, which makes the place feel more intimate than the open dining area would suggest.
The appetizers set us in high spirits. If you're dining in a group, or particularly hungry, try the mixed appetizers plate ($8.95), which includes pakora--an assortment of ground vegetables that includes onions, spinach, cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, and chick peas, laced with pepper and deep-fried; a heap of delicately battered and fried broccoli; greaseless yet buttery-tasting samosas filled with spiced mixed vegetables; and a couple of papads--savory lentil wafers--all served with a complement of yogurt dip flavored with tamarind. If you aren't liver-averse, you can likewise get a nice bowlful of fat chicken livers, lightly sautéed with marinated tomatoes and peppers ($2.95).
More familiar dishes get special touches here, such as the mango lassi we slurped down; it was thick and sweet, with a lovely contrast of flavors, owing to the pulp tinged with rose water, the dollop of sour yogurt, and a judicious dose of cracked pepper ($3.50). Soup lovers should make note of the distinctive chicken offering, which features a thick base stuffed with tiny bits of chicken and flavored with saffron and cilantro, and of the spicy mulligatawny soup, a blended tomato and lentil concoction that's liberally spiced (each is $2.50).
Many of the entrées are served with bowls of chopped cabbage, lettuce, and carrots and platters of balsamic rice jeweled with peas; the selection is quite extensive, ranging from tandoori specialties to curried lamb, chicken, beef, and seafood dishes, buttressed by a slew of vegetarian options. We settled on the chicken tikkamasala ($9.95), a happy mix of marinated boneless chicken sharing intimate space with tomatoes, ginger, onions, green peppers, and curry sauce. Better still was the lamb spinach mushroom curry ($7.95), a lush affair covered in chopped cilantro. The portions are quite ample.
The Moghals also excels in its breads, condiments, and side dishes; among the more remarkable are a tongue-binding pickled lemon and lime char ($1.25); raita, a relish made with whipped yogurt, chopped cucumber, tomato, and spices ($1.75); and the various pickled chutneys. Special breads include warm, lofty pillows of naan, offered in plain ($1.75) or garlic ($2.25) renditions, and the heavier onion kulcha ($2.50), which is stuffed with onions, pepper, ginger, and spices.
Should you be feeling a bit unhealthy, the kitchen does offer a medicine chest of ayurvedic herbal teas ($1.25), although their commitment to the lifestyle isn't as stringent as the former occupant's; you'll also find a small but adequate wine list that includes my dad's personal favorite, Gallo chardonnay ($13.95) and ranges upward to the somewhat more sophisticated Concannon chardonnay ($22.95); also available are several man-sized bottles of imported Indian beer ($2.95-$5.95).
The desserts are serviceable and traditional, including the likes of mango ice cream ($2.95), rasomalai (cakes soaked in sugar water, $2.75), and gulab jamun (cheeseballs fried and dipped in rose water syrup, $2.75). My personal favorite was the kheer, a creamy, rich rice pudding flecked with heady cardamom ($2.75); a spoonful or two is enough to ease one's transition back into the neon glow of Lake Street that awaits outside.