Welcome to the Dal House

Three road-tested restaurateurs put Indian back on the food map

The place has a pretty nice happy hour: Monday to Friday from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., all the appetizers (except the samosas) are half price, and tap beers and cocktails are a dollar off. Some of these appetizers, like the groaning sampler plates that ordinarily cost $8 to $10, are certainly big enough for dinner. If you're anywhere near Loring Park, on a budget, on a date, or are a vegetarian, bookmark this.

Those appetizers are worth seeking out even when they're not half price. I've gotten jaded (that's the stage of grief after acceptance, right?) seeing the same frozen appetizers appearing at so many Indian restaurants, so when New Delhi dished up some honest-to-goodness handmade samosas ($2.99), all homey and real and full of cut-up pieces of potato and garden peas, I became quite happy. I stayed that way through the Indian cheese curds ($3.99), homemade squares of paneer deep-fried in a fluffy lentil-flour-based batter. I even liked--to the surprise of all--"vegan egg rolls," which should sue New Delhi for calling them that, because they're really just minced vegetables and noodles spiced with toasted mustard seeds, rolled into a little cylinder and deep-fried--crisp little original treats, not something that sounds like it would be made with grotty old bits of Utne Reader.

Even after three visits, I don't feel like I made much headway with the entrées. I did find enough things that impressed me so that, um, I could be all impressed: foremost was the murgh shahi malai tikka ($11.99), minced chicken, marinated and formed into meatballs and served sizzling on a platter with lots of onions, carrots, and pepper. The dish is flavored with cardamom and mace and served with fresh lemon wedges. The overall impression is light, bright, herbal, and a little sweet--nice.

What was missing on Eat Street? New Delhi, the creation of Sayyad M. Hussain (left), Shamez Babvani, and Om Parkash (not pictured).
Michael Dvorak
What was missing on Eat Street? New Delhi, the creation of Sayyad M. Hussain (left), Shamez Babvani, and Om Parkash (not pictured).

I liked the shrimp vindaloo ($12.99) very much. It's not the red, strained chile-saturated version you might be used to; here it's a dish of stewed tomatoes and translucent onions, the whole thing given a spicy tamarind edge--again, a dish that was pleasantly both light and complicated. There's an extensive vegetarian selection, and my two favorites were easily the malai kofta ($9.95), golf-ball-size dumplings of minced vegetables, grains, and cheese served in a creamy spinach sauce--very rich, very comforting.

The navratan dhansak ($8.95) was a chopped mélange of vegetables in a coconut sauce that was more multidimensional than the average canned sweet one. Butter lentils ($7.95) prove that with enough butter, even simple black lentils become as delicious as the bacon at the bottom of the chowder.

I liked each and every bread I tried out of New Delhi's dozen, though I'd pick the garlic naan ($2.50) as the ace-in-the-hole don't-miss. Topped with chopped bits of garlic and fresh minced cilantro, this bubbly, tender mass of bread just might be better than the best garlic bagel in the Twin Cities--no kidding.

In fact, maybe they should think about putting cream cheese on it. Co-owner Shamez Babvani says the biggest problem the restaurant is having right now is all the convention traffic that comes in assuming New Delhi means New Deli: "You have corned beef?"

Considering the utterly forgettable name and the big Snoodles fork sign outside, I can't imagine how that's happening. (Apparently the sign is grandfathered in to the building's zoning, and if they got rid of it they couldn't have a high-above-the-roof sign like that anymore.) I guess I wish they had called it Fork of Glory or something. Forks Up, India! Forkful of Dal. Forking Around the Subcontinent. Who knows. I'm no good at this.

Anyway, I have to go: I can feel a bit of the lumbago coming on, and I've got a sneaking suspicion it's trying to tell me something about the tamales of New Brighton.

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