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Indian Delhi Palace, 10321 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 922-8484. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m., seven days a week.
A new branch of the venerable Indian Delhi Palace restaurant on McDowell, this Indian Delhi Palace is obviously hoping to snare some of the growing dining-out business in the northeast Valley.
It's in the location that used to house a French restaurant called Barbara's. The latest proprietors obviously haven't taken out any remodeling loans. The chairs and carpet look the same. A few embroidered hangings have been tacked up on some otherwise bare walls. You can also stare at the buffet lunch cart edged up against the side of the room.
The less-than-opulent setting wouldn't have attracted my baleful attention if the food had been riveting enough. A good meal served in the Black Hole of Calcutta would probably still rouse my enthusiasm. But the food here is, at best, hit or miss.
My Indian companions wouldn't even try the unappetizing-looking appetizers. I had to. The limp, lifeless vegetable pakora might make even a devout Hindu contemplate the charms of a Big Mac. The samosas were practically inedible--old-tasting minced chicken stuffed inside a pouch about as leathery as Jack Palance's saddlebag. I know these starters must have been fresh at one time, but it may have been the day I wore a Nehru jacket to my cousin Robert's bar mitzvah. Most of the main dishes we tried range from fair to palatable, not a very impressive range when you consider Indian food's potential. The mixed tandoori grill is routinely tasty, made up of a quarter chicken, two pieces of boneless chicken breast, ground lamb kebab and two cubes of lamb. Also in its favor is the $11 tag, which is lower than I've seen elsewhere in town for this dish.
Malai kofta got the only unanimous thumbs up. They're little vegetable balls blended with Indian cheese, served in a wonderfully fragrant, creamy gravy. Spooned over basmati rice, it's the one dish we scraped clean. Lamb pasanda newabi promised sliced lamb in an appealing cream sauce thickened with yogurt and scented with mixed ground nuts. The problem with this platter stemmed from our difficulty in locating the lamb. An all-out search suggested that it had gone the way of Judge Crater, Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Hoffa. When I asked the waiter to identify the type of fish employed in the fish curry, he shrugged in ignorance. After a few bites, though, I had my answer: the dreaded Indian rubber fish. The curry itself, which we requested extra hot, came clear-your-sinuses smoking. But the fish should have been thrown back.
Even the benghan bhartha lacked zest. If I hadn't known it was made from eggplant, I might never have guessed it. This dish usually makes me swoon--the version here made me snore. Like the appetizers, desserts are abysmal. My experts refused to put their spoons in the ras malai, a Bengali treat of pistachio-flecked sweet milk and cheese. "It doesn't look fresh," they said, and a taste confirmed their opinion. The golab jamum, meanwhile, also tasted "off," as if they'd been sitting uncovered in a refrigerator for a few days. Alas, the excellent, steaming cup of aromatic Indian tea was too little, too late.
Opening a second restaurant is like having a second kid--the number of dependents doubles, but the problems quadruple. It looks like India Delhi Palace's operators haven't yet figured out how to cope.