Punjab Palace

A quality Indian bargain spot deserving of multiple visits
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  October 15, 2009
2.0 2.0 Stars

CUBISM: Kulfi, the original ice cream — here cut into cubes — offers cooling cardamom and pistachio flavor. It’s the perfect way to finish off a meal.

Punjab Palace | 109 Brighton Ave, Allston | 617.254.1500 | punjabpalace.com | Open Monday–Friday, 11:30 am–3 pm and 5–11 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 am–11 pm | AE, DI, MC, VI | Beer and wine | No valet parking | Sidewalk-level access
Punjab Palace — by the same owners of Kenmore Square’s India Quality — “proves to be the kind of kid brother that would make any older sibling proud,” my colleague MC Slim JB wrote last year. That’s true, but this is also another second-tier Indian restaurant. So why do Slim and I like it so much? Because it has a variety of savory food, some of it fried, none of it overly expensive, pleasant service, and some novel flavors. (Even at the second level, Indian restaurants deliver quite a lot.)

When you get to know the place, you can move it up toward the first tier by ordering the right items. At the top of that list should be dahi papri ($3.75), a spread of crisp fried potato cubes sprinkled with cilantro, cumin, yogurt, and a pepper sauce — like a potato salad full of surprises. (A sleeper is lentil soup ($2.95) with a slight vanilla-like richness and fresh green peas.)

Next on my all-star menu selection, you must have chicken methiwala ($11.95), a bowl of green stew with quite a lot of tender chicken meat. The “methi” is fenugreek greens, a mildly bitter herb that seems offset here by some sweetness, perhaps from onions and tomatoes. (“Medium” spice at this restaurant is about what spice-loving non-Indians can handle.) Put this over the excellent super-long-grain basmati rice, or with a tandoori bread — like the sweet and crunchy Pashwari nan, made with raisins and coconuts ($3.50) — and you are ready to feast.

Now for a trick: the beverage menu lists two yogurt drinks, sweet lassi ($2.25) with rosewater, and mango lassi ($2.50), which approaches a smoothie in sweetness. But what South Asians actually drink is salty lassi. I asked if they had that, too, and got a big smile from the waiter — and a really unusual concoction with onion-flavored kalonji seeds. (I think I also earned an extra little dish of fresh cabbage-onion pickle with this move.) If drinking salty, onion-flavored yogurt isn’t your cup of tea, try the excellent masala chai ($1.50). It’s neither too thick nor too sweet, with a good balance of spices, hot tea, and scalded milk. The safest of the Indian beers is Kingfisher, a malty lager now brewed under contract in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Finish the above off with the original ice cream, kulfi ($2.95), which here is cut into cubes, allowing you to savor the cooling cardamom and pistachio flavors without noticing too much of this dish’s usual iciness. Congratulations, you’ve had the perfect meal.

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