Fire-eaters can get that yearned-for jolt at Kiran Palace. But those who prefer to walk on the mild side can still enjoy the complexity of spice and texture inherent in fine Indian cooking. For this little Indian restaurant, situated in a decidedly nonpalatial Hicksville strip-mall storefront, serves fare that's nothing short of regal.
For starters, aloo tikki, deep-fried potato and pea patties are at once soothing and subtly hot. Mixed vegetable pakoras, deep-fried battered vegetables, are light, crisp, greaseless. You'll want to order seconds of bhel puri, the sweet and piquant blend of crisped rice and vegetables that, in India, is a popular street snack. Impressive, as well, are the vegetable seekh kebab, fried cylinders of ground, spiced vegetables, as well as the chicken Malabar, coconut-crusted chicken breasts served with a spicy-sweet chutney.
Weeks after first savoring the mango chicken, I found myself still craving the tender nuggets of poultry in a velvet-smooth sauce that detonated exotic little bursts of flavor, fruity and fiery, one after another. Butter chicken is imbued with a haunting and wonderful smokiness. Chicken jalfresi, in a ginger-inflected tomato sauce, is another winner. And chicken vindaloo, while not certifiably explosive, is properly vinegary and peppery.
High-voltage fanatics can opt for the marvelous chicken Chettinad, made with lots of crushed black peppers from Chennai. But a dish like lamb rogan josh, ordered mild, is exciting in its own way, with tender pieces of lamb cloaked in a mild ginger and garlic-spiked curry sauce. So is navratan korma, a melange of vegetables in a creamy curry-cashew sauce. You'll be unable to get enough of the shrimp masala, succulent charcoal- broiled crustaceans in a smooth, beautifully nuanced sauce.
If you're watching your fat and cholesterol intake, you might want to try the tandoori mixed grill, an assortment containing juicy tandoori chicken, somewhat drier chicken tikka, nicely grilled tandoori shrimp and savory seekh kabab (grilled ground lamb).
If there is one fault to find with the restaurant, it is that some of the breads can be a bit dry. Best is the lush onion kulcha and the spherical poori, deep-fried and wonderful.
Finish with the mango or pistachio kulcha or ice cream (both are house-made) or the warm gulab jamun, fried cheese balls in a rosewater-scented syrup. The rice pudding, runny and fragrant, tastes both familiar and intriguingly exotic.
What are you waiting for?
-- Joan Reminick
Reviewed: July 20, 2001