Get to India via Aliceanna Street

Written by on August 24, 2011 in Baltimore Bites - No comments

It was fiercely hot a couple of Thursdays ago, so of course we went out looking for spicy food. Spicy food makes you sweat, which has a cooling effect, and it doesn’t require exercise. What’s not to like?

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We went to Darbar, the recently opened Indian restaurant at 1911-13 Aliceanna Street.

There have been restaurants of many languages at 1911 Aliceanna since the engineering firm that called it home for decades moved out about 10 years ago. There was Opa!, a Greek restaurant that lasted for a couple of years, and Talay Thai Grille, and a few others. Here’s hoping that Darbar, which serves up excellent Indian cuisine, sticks around for a good long while.

For one thing, Darbar offers a delicious and comprehensive lunch buffet for $9.95 on weekdays and $11.95 on weekends. If you don’t know that much about a cuisine, and I do not know all that much about Indian food, a buffet is an ideal method for getting acquainted.

Darbar’s buffet is set up in fancy chafing dishes on long tables dressed with white cloths. You simply pick up a plate and head down the line.

When we visited the buffet offered chicken curry, chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken, veg pakora, saag, dal makhani and aloo tikka chana. There was also basmati rice and a cooling chopped salad of lettuce, cucumber and tomato, all diced quite small.

Let’s translate.

We Americans tend to think of every Indian dish as curry. It’s not, just as every American dish is not hamburger. But while we’re on the subject, Darbar’s chicken curry is tender cubes of meat swimming in a spicy, smoky brown sauce with a bit of heat, not too much. It’s quite possibly toned down for Americans, but it’s very tasty. If you like fiery hot, order the vindaloo–it is definitely not toned down.

The dal makhani, lentils in a smoky, spicy, deep brown sauce, were absolutely delicious, comfort food with a little kick. Dal is a staple of Indian cuisine, and one of the things that makes dal makhani so lip-smackingly good is a significant amount of butter. Not for the diet conscious, but very good and worth the indulgence for sure.

Chicken tikka masala is another common dish for buffets—when we think of chicken curry we are usually thinking of chicken tikka masala, which is chunks of roasted chicken swimming in a sauce of yogurt, tomato and many spices. The sauce is smoky, spicy, gingery and complex.

On the side, we chose a few veg pakora, little crispy, salty vegetable fritters, and some saag, the creamy, earthy cooked spinach dish, and some aloo tikki chana, which are little fried potato and chickpea pancakes, tasty and very handy to sop up sauce from the tikka masala and dal.

Tandoori chicken is a deep red, mildly spicy dish of chicken marinated in yogurt and spices and grilled in a tandoor, a clay oven shaped a little like a beehive that sits over an open flame. You can grill on skewers in the middle while baking your flatbread slapped to the side of the tandoor. Everything gets a little smoky and delicious.

Darbar’s servers, who are pleasant and helpful and will keep your water glass filled without your knowing it needs it, leave a basket of naan, a soft, warm flatbread, to sop up the sauces.

Darbar is a very welcome addition to Fells Point’s dining scene, which tends a little too much toward frat boy fare of burgers and pizza. You can get an excellent meal, and a little education in Indian cuisine at the same time, and it won’t dent your pocketbook too much. Also, there is plenty to love for vegetarians.

Darbar, 1911-13 Aliceanna St., is open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch buffet is $9.95 on weekdays, $11.95 weekends. Dinner entrees are $10.95-$16.95; appetizers run $2.95-$4.95.

by Jacqueline Watts

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