Beyond the fact that I've lived on the east side of Winter Park for years, there's no need to explain why more of my dining dollars don't go toward Indian food. Indian restaurants are scarce in those parts; always have been. Standing at Fairbanks and Park avenues, the closest choices are the Indian takeout in the Princeton Food Store at I-4 and Kohinoor on Semoran Boulevard in Altamonte Springs. Working downtown doesn't bring me any closer to the pool of Indian eateries in the I-Drive corridor (for British tourists), either.
So, though it's way east, all the way to Alafaya Trail, Anmol is close enough and good enough to count; I can't stop thinking about their onion kulcha bread. The family that owns Ashoka Fine Indian Cuisine in Daytona Beach (and that once owned Kohinoor) opened Anmol in February 2004, replacing Maharaja, a quickie stop for vegetarian Indian. The full-service Anmol sits across from the University of Central Florida entrance, in the northside strip mall that houses Miss Saigon.
Starved for the taste of Indian food and out of practice at ordering, we thought everything on the menu looked worthy of a try. So we started with the "Anmol special appetizer" ($8.50) and sampled a medley of vegetable samosas, veggie pakora, papadam, chicken tikka, seikh kebab, chicken pakora and cheese pakora. The samosas (regularly $2.95 for two pieces) were favorites fluffy inside, flaky outside and so were the tender pieces of lamb in the seikh kebab, cooked in the clay oven. We experimented with the different meats and mixtures dipped in the provided chutneys, a spicy tamarind and a sweeter onion. Other available condiments were mango and mint chutneys ($1.75), as well as raita and hot pickles ($1.75).
Out of the dozen or so vegetarian entrees, the paneer masala ($9.50) fresh homemade cheese cubes cooked with tomato sauce, onion, green pepper and spices sounded rich and filling, and it was, and even better the next day for lunch. Also tempting were bhartha ($7.95), eggplant baked, mashed and seasoned with herbs; and aloo gobhi ($8.50), cauliflower, potatoes and tomatoes cooked with herbs and spices.
Enough can't be said about the onion kulcha flatbread ($3), moist with onions and fresh coriander. Also served fresh from the clay oven are the typical naan ($1.95) and fancier aloo naan ($3), stuffed with mashed potatoes, and leavened garlic naan ($3), and special naan ($3.95) with boneless chicken tikka, vegetables, herbs and green coriander.
Before our half-order of chicken tandoori ($9.95, full $16.95), marinated in yogurt and spices, was delivered from the clay oven, we watched an Indian family enveloped by the steam and sizzle of the table-side presentation. The grilled meat is nothing special as far as spiciness goes, but it's a quality dish. There are a host of other tandoori entrees, and next time around we'll jump into the vindaloos. The "special biryani" ($14.95) rice dish was dry and lacking meatier pieces of lamb, chicken and shrimp, too lackluster to be called a "special."
Also somewhat drab was the restaurant's decor, or lack of it. Still, the feel is of a family dining room; the atmosphere is warm, though it doesn't match the fineness of the cuisine. Service provided by family members was particularly patient, especially in responding to all our questions. And the homemade mango ice cream ($2.50) left a pleasant taste that'll make sure we return to sample more.
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