Ruby Divine Indian Dining
25 Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck
SERVICE: Well-meaning but inconsistent
AMBIENCE: Quiet with a soundtrack that ranges from electronic Indian music to hymns.
ESSENTIALS: Lunch: Monday to Friday. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday noon to 4 p.m.
Dinner: Monday to Friday, 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday 6 p.m. to midnight. Street parking.
There was a time, not all that long ago, when a fine-dining Indian restaurant on Long Island, or really anywhere in the region, was seen as a welcome step beyond the all-you-can eat joints.
Indian cuisine has evolved rapidly in recent years. The bar has been raised. Long Island is in the midst of a south Asian-dining boom with dozens of new restaurants pushing the landscape, from Akbar in Garden City to the growing Clay Oven chain in Suffolk to the duo of Diwan fine dining restaurants in Nassau. You can hardly walk a block in Hicksville without passing places offering all regions of well-executed Indian fare.
So it pains me to say that Ruby Divine Indian Dining in Great Neck, a town with no competing curry, samosas or tandoori chicken, is stuck in the past, trying to pass off mediocrity as quality at prices on par with some of the Island’s most expensive Indian dining establishments.
An offshoot of Sapphire Divine Indian Dining in New Jersey, Ruby occupies the one-time home of Ethos, a Greek restaurant that closed in 2015 after an eight-year run. It’s the lone Indian restaurant in Great Neck after short-lived Shalom Mumbai closed in April, ending a run that lasted a little more than a year.
The new owners have adapted the space with some South Asian touches (photos of temples, statues of elephants) along with a fresh coat of red paint and red tablecloths to play on that ruby theme. In the span of an evening, the music track switches from electronic Indian to piano hymns that give off a funeral home tenor.
The service is attentive and the staff works hard to please, but it’s the kitchen where the experience really falls short.
The menu features regions and styles from across the subcontinent with a few twists like an appetizer of jalapeño and cheese mini samosas. Skip them. The samosas taste as if they have been precooked and reheated, the turnover-like shell lukewarm and rubbery.
More traditional chicken samosas are greasy, stuffed with tasteless ground chicken. Cleverly named dosa cocktails are nothing more than soggy South Indian crepes filled with potatoes and cut in half. An appetizer of pickled mushrooms tastes better than it looks. And the best of the starters is the kurkuri bhindi chaat, crispy fried matchsticks of okra, gently flecked by a tangy tamarind sauce.
At Ruby, the tandoor section, the backbone of Indian restaurant menus that employ a clay oven, is the weakest link. On multiple visits, order upon order of meat — thick baby lamb chops, medallions of chicken, skewers of lamb seekh kebabs — arrived splotchy, lacking that distinct, even char. The result on otherwise juicy chops one night was spots of uncooked marinade that left a mealy taste.
The rest of the main dishes were erratic. Lamb mattar fused tender bits of ground lamb with peas in ginger-rich gravy, and tender goat was a nice addition to the fiery zaffrani biryani. But cubes of tough roasted lamb in the gazab ki boti were bobbing in a thick layer of oil, while tender helpings of colossal shrimp were slicked with grease and overwhelmed by heat in the kadai shrimp.
The rich and creamy sarson ka saag was a nice twist on classic saag paneer with a peppery kick from more assertive mustard greens, but a creamy fenugreek-rich methi mattar malai curry was let down by undercooked peas.
Breads may be the most consistent dishes at Ruby, particularly the jalebi paratha, a layered bread that pulls away into buttery shreds, or the stuffed keema naan, which comes filled with a layer of ground lamb.
Desserts are reflective of the turbulent nature of a meal here. The molten moong dal halwa, a buttery lentil pudding, was enjoyable, but the rasmalai, a traditional cheesecake-like pudding, was chalky and overly sweet.
The Ruby experience was best summed up following one visit. A couple that had been sitting a few tables away stopped us outside to vent. During a quick back and forth, they went on to express how they have had plenty of great Indian food over the years, but were disappointed by the meal here. In Great Neck, all is not divine.