If you're a fan of northern Indian cuisine—with its luscious, fluffy pieces of naan and deeply spiced, creamy curries such as korma and the Westernized favorite, chicken tikka masala—the opening of Gandhi Mahal should be a cause for celebration. A recent visit revealed a korma ($10-$15 depending on protein) that was substantial and satisfying without being overly sweet, and a chicken tikka masala that packed a courageously spicy punch. There are other Indian joints that do respectable kormas and chicken tikka masalas, but the fact remains: Gandhi Mahal is a special place that merits a visit on its own terms.
Therefore, without further ado, the Top Five Reasons to Dine at Gandhi Mahal:
5. The banana pakora: Banana pakora ($4) sounds good in theory, but they're stone-cold delicious in fact. The soft, almost molten banana slice at the heart of each fritter has a texture and sweetness that recalls a roasted marshmallow when contrasted with the crunchy, savory, battered exterior.
4. The Minnehaha/East Lake nexus: Patronize Gandhi Mahal and you're stepping into an increasingly diverse and intriguing culinary crossroads. Town Talk Diner and Manny's Tortas are both reliable engines of gastronomic excellence; Midori's Floating World does some solid neighborhood Japanese food; T's Place serves up a funky mix of Ethiopian- and Singapore-inspired dishes that are among the most interesting in the Twin Cities. And now, there's Mughal-style Indian food in the mix.
3. The lassi sampler: Five bucks gets you three small lassis (a yogurt-based drink). It's an offer that should be accepted by anyone who's never gone beyond the mango option before. Gandhi Mahal also has a pleasant banana lassi and a strawberry lassi that is surprisingly and pleasingly tart; the tangy yogurt leads and the fruit follows. Also on offer: the Badumi lassi, a.k.a. reason No. 2 to visit Gandhi Mahal.
2. The Badumi lassi: A nutty lassi with a flavor that a waiter accurately compared to a mix of almonds and cashews, the Badumi lassi is a skillful blend of the sweet, the nutty, and the yogurt-y, followed by a healthy kick of milky lactose flavor. It's also one of the tastiest non-alcoholic drinks in its zip code.
1. The saag paneer: For years, I've wrestled with a destructive personal secret: I don't like saag paneer. The spinach is often stringy and/or bitter, and the chunks of D-grade Indian cheese floating amid the sea of green do little to redeem the dish. But the saag paneer at Gandhi Mahal is a real revelation. It's mellow and mild, smooth and creamy, permeated by a soft, wholesome cheese taste and texture. Available as an entrée, it's also part of the sprawling vegetarian sampler called the Gandhi Thali ($14 for one person, $23 for two).
There are a few minor stumbles on the menu: regular pakora came out a little greasy and dense, and a samosa was unaccountably sour in taste and mushy in texture.
That aside, Gandhi Mahal is a garden of delights. Prompt, polite service; warm, folksy decor; and food good enough to curl your toes in delight. Another one or two places this good, and Minnehaha/East Lake will be unstoppable.