Some good East Indian restaurants have come and gone over the years, but none has come close to matching the longevity of India Palace, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
Guldeep Singh and his late brother, Manjit, opened India Palace in 1993. The brothers would open a couple of other Indian restaurants through the years, but they, too, were shuttered for one reason or another while the original at 69th Street and Lewis Avenue survived.
It even made it through massive road construction in the area seven to eight years ago when a number of businesses were forced to close.
“People seemed to find their way in, even when almost all of the parking lot entrances were blocked,” Guldeep Singh said.
He said he and his brother took over an existing restaurant in ’93, Taste of India, and changed the name to India Palace.
“For a while, people thought we were the same restaurant, and it took a while for the name to catch on,” he said. “Since then it has been very steady. We never have big jumps, and we never have any lows.”
Some fans of India Palace like to take in the lunch buffet, served from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. all week. Some prefer dinner menu service, which starts at 5 p.m. all week. We like both.
The buffet holds about 12 main items that may vary from day to day, plus a selection of soups and salads.
It always is tempting to take a dab of everything, but I usually find myself stopping at six or seven items. Among dishes one can count on having on the buffet are the requisite chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken and either saag paneer or matter paneer.
The red-hued tandoori chicken, cooked in a clay tandoor oven, was moist with a slightly smoky flavor. I found myself dipping pieces of chicken into a flavorful yellow curry sauce, and that was a winning combination. I don’t know if that was the purpose of the curry, but it worked for me.
Saag paneer is creamed spinach, and matter paneer is mushed peas, both cooked with house-made cheese and a curry sauce. Both are smooth and mild.
The mildly spicy chicken tikka masala features boneless pieces of tandoor chicken cooked in a velvety tomato, almond and butter gravy. These dishes seem to have found the most favor among American diners.
Among other dishes we encountered recently were tomato dal, assorted lentils spiced and sautéed with ginger and garlic; beef kofta korma, dumplings in a creamy rich sauce; aloo sabji, potatoes with onion tomato gravy; bagara bhaigan, eggplant roasted in sesame oil and peanut sauce; and meatballs cooked in a mellow brown gravy.
A favorite from the menu is the mixed grill, which offers a variety of meats and seafood from the tandoor oven, including a somewhat spicy lamb kabob, chicken and prawns, all seasoned with herbs and spices.
Most dishes are seasoned with an assortment of spices but are more flavorful than spicy hot. Heat-seekers might want to try one of the vindaloos — shrimp, chicken, beef or lamb — each cooked with potatoes in a spicy-hot sauce, or the chicken chili, sautéed with hot serrano chili peppers and onions.
Entrees often come with papad (crispy lentil wafers) and spicy onion chutney, mint chutney and sweet-and-sour tamarind chutney dipping sauces. Singh said it is popular to mix the chutneys together, and that’s how I like it, too, with a spicy-sweet finish.
India Palace also is noted for offering a variety of naan, leavened bread cooked in the tandoor oven. Some are plain and some are stuffed with meats, nuts, garlic or vegetables.
“India was in the spice trade centuries ago, and that’s why much of our flavors come from herbs and spices,” Singh said. “Probably 60 percent of Indians are vegetarian, so we have been popular with vegetarians and vegans, too.”
Beverages include chai tea and mango lassi (like a yogurt smoothie), plus a decent selection of beers and wine, including a couple of East Indian beers.
The lunch buffet is $10.95 Monday-Saturday and $11.95 Sunday. Menu entrees generally range from $11 to $20.
The three dining areas, which have a peaceful, calm ambience, have changed little over the years. Yellow-gold walls are covered in fabric wall hangings in brilliant shades of black, red and green. Glass-topped tables have maroon-over-white cloths. Brass accents, along with a variety of plants, give the rooms a lush look.
Singh said the dining rooms will get a makeover this summer when business is slower, a tricky thing for India Palace because it is open all year, including holidays.
“We are going to change some colors and put in new carpet,” Singh said. “It’s time to make it fresh again.”