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Good Evening

Heritage of India

The traditions of Indian cooking are deftly handed down at Heritage, a spot that knows how to make sparks fly.

In a dining room decorated in earth tones, with handsome stenciling, faux columns, floral arrangements and Indian artwork, Heritage offers an opulent place setting. The food often is very good, too.

Anil Bhatia's kitchen takes a straightforward approach, and generally stays with the most familiar Indian dishes. They're presented with panache by a gracious, accommodating staff that could give lessons to a host of eateries cracking under the holiday rush.

You're in for a leisurely meal here. The Heritage style is conducive to lingering. But they can speed things up if you're on deadline and have to make that last shopping expedition.

Mulligatawny soup provides bracing fuel. The peppery, vegetarian, lentil number is a lively version of an often-abused dish. There's even more zing in the shrimp broth, juiced up with ginger and cilantro. Chicken shorba seems mellow by comparison, but it also has a spicy undercurrent and a jolt of cumin.

Vegetable fritters arrive crisp and tasty, ready for a dip in tamarind chutney. Samosas, the pyramid pastries filled with potatoes and peas, are savory enough on their own.

But garlic shrimp, finished with white wine and lemon juice, are overcooked. Stuffed mushrooms also don't show the kitchen's strengths. You're better off with the cooling chaat papri, with chickpeas, potatoes, yogurt, tamarind and mint sauce, entangling those crunchy wafers.

Heritage prepares an incendiary vindaloo, sure to steel you for any winter night. Both lamb and chicken receive the fired-up treatment, with a fine, vinegary edge. An order of raita -- the union of yogurt, sour cream and cucumber -- complements it. Rogan josh, the crimson, lamb stew from Kashmir, has a smoother approach, but also can send a tingle.

Lamb chops from the tandoor, the clay oven, are slightly smoky and good. Tender lamb kebabs, benefiting from a papaya marinade, are flavorful, too. But tandoori shrimp and saffron-marinated salmon are overdone.

Chicken fares better, especially in murgh hara-bhara, marinated with mint, cilantro, chiles and assorted herbs, then grilled in the tandoor. Murgh malai kekab, chicken breast marinated in garlic and accented with nutmeg, also is recommended.

Palak chicken, cooked with spinach and herbs; and chicken methiwala, with onions, ginger, garlic, tomatoes and fenugreek, are spirited main courses with harmonious seasoning.

But the Goan fish curry, made with grouper or sole, depending on the catch, is pretty tired, surprisingly subdued. Deep-fried red snapper, with garlic, tomatoes and a warm blend of spices, has more to it.

Vegetarian courses stand out. The winning combinations include chickpeas in a zesty melange of spices; lentils simmered with garlic, onions, tomatoes and cilantro; zeera aloo, or potatoes prepared with aromatic curry leaves and cumin. Vegetables jalfrezi is a more modest choice, with broccoli, potatoes, cauliflower, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes in a cumin sauce.

They make a quintet of breads here. Pudina paratha, a wheat bread fragrant with mint; and garlic naan, with garlic and cilantro, are appealing choices. Onion kulcha could use more onions and less time in the oven. It's charred blacker like an ultrathin, singed pizza crust.

For dessert, Heritage naturally makes sweet, lush gulab jamun, or fried milk balls in syrup. The almond- and-cinnamon ice cream refreshes.

Heritage does, too.

Reviewed by Peter Gianotti, 12/14/03.

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