Tuesday, August 31, 1999

Total recall

Posted on Tue, Aug 31, 1999 at 4:00 AM

Memories of India may sound like a title for a movie or a coffee-table book, but it's really a new restaurant on the south side of town. The menu is inspired by the owners' memories of the incredible meals they had in their homeland. In fact, I got excited when one of them told me he used to be a chef at the Taj Mahal -- until he clarified that he worked at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay, not the famed mausoleum in New Delhi.

Memories of India challenges the assumption that Indian cuisine is a uniform selection of curried chicken, mango chutney and such, and that the only variation comes in choosing between mild, medium and hot spicing. But the culinary diversity can change dramatically from region to region throughout India, much like, say, the light years of difference between northern and southern Italian cooking.

For instance, in the coastal regions of India, such as the Bengal area, people are fanatics about seafood. Goan fish curries are famous, and there's an excellent version on this menu, marinated in ground spices and simmered in tangy gravy ($14.95).

Meanwhile, the northern area of the country, bordering Tibet, is buried so far inland that meat is the primary source of protein and is at the center of their meals. In the Punjab tradition, succulent chicken and lamb are sizzled in huge, earthen tandoor ovens that seal all of the spicy, marinated flavors into a dish.

One of the most well-known tandoor dishes is chicken tikka, nuggets of flavorful meat that appear on the assorted appetizer platter ($8) along with crisp, fried vegetable fritters and pastries.

If you really like the smoky tandoor flavors, step up to the "saffron shrimp" ($15.95) entree, which is marinated in the tandoor oven as well. We loved this preparation, especially when ladled over a fragrant mound of basmati rice.

India also has a royal tradition of cooking with rich, ginger-flavored roast meats and buttery curries. The "lamb kada masala" ($12.95) is a wonderful version, sassed up with garlic and spring onions. This one packed a wallop when prepared to the requested "medium" strength.

Like most Indian restaurants in town, Memories of India is located near the attractions. (Why is that?) And even though the interior is elegant and softly lit, we couldn't shake the feeling that we were dining in a shopping plaza. But the welcome was as warm as the spicy menu, and the wait staff did their job, but remained in the background, allowing us to focus on what's become our fond memories.


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