It seems like just a few years ago, there were only one or two Indian restaurants in town. Now there are several, though most cater to tourists by locating themselves on International Drive.
And there, in a strip-mall, is Shamiana, where on a recent Sunday afternoon I found the decor pleasant and unpretentious, with paddle fans, hanging plants and tapestries (although our table was a little grimy).
I began with sweet lassi ($2), a creamy beverage made of blended mango and yogurt. I've tried lots of versions of this Indian specialty, but this was by far the best I've had anywhere. We split our puri appetizer ($2), a puffed piece of whole wheat bread, lightly fried and served with a sweet chickpea sauce for dipping. Also accompanying the puri was a tasty chutney and a cucumber, tomato and onion salad. All were delicious.
My companion ordered the chicken korma ($4.95), which was superb, although a bit richer than what we're used to. This version was prepared with a mild, creamy almond sauce with raisins and spices and served on jasmine rice.
In an effort to be different, I asked for the lamb sheik kabab ($5.95) but was offered a polite apology (they were out of lamb) and a suggestion to try the chicken tikka masala ($4.95) instead. My disappointment ended as soon as the dish arrived. It featured tender chunks of chicken baked in a tandoori oven, then stirred into a smoky tomato sauce with onions, peppers and herbs.
Both main dishes were served thali-style on large steel platters with an eye-popping variety of side dishes, breads and dipping sauces. (Shamiana's thali platters are excellent lunchtime bargains, with prices varying a couple of bucks depending on whether you want chicken or the pricier shrimp and lamb dishes.) We liked the pappadam (lentil crackers) and the naan (plain bread -- excellent for dipping). However, we were underwhelmed by the "dal of the day" -- in this case, a bland, mushy lentil mixture -- as well as the saffron-colored, uninspiring potatoes. The rice pudding was a welcome, cooling treat after all the spicy food -- with just enough nutmeg to make it interesting.
And even though we ate a heck of a lot of food, our bill without tip was just $19. Clearly, Shamiana isn't trying to keep up with the neighbors.
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