Indian food with a punch.
At Masala BBQ, clockwise from front: tandoori chicken, samosas with tamarind chutney and mint green sauces, and naan.Photo by Michael A. Foley/Rycus Assoc.
Even mediocre Indian food can pack a flavor punch, with all the aromatic vegetables, herbs, spices and hot chilies that identify this cuisine.
The trick to making good Indian food is to pack that punch without obscuring the main ingredients. This requires a balanced hand, good ingredients and fresh spices.
Masala BBQ is a modest storefront restaurant near Polaris Fashion Place that does Indian cooking honestly. Although not everything I tried met these criteria, for the most part I tasted freshly toasted and mixed spices, pleasing ingredients and a firm but balanced hand in the kitchen. A big plus: The food was not dumbed down for mainstream palates.
In other words, this is good Indian food that really packs a punch.
Take the goat masala (yes, goat). Even if you ask for it mild, the dish sings with the flavors of the spices, garlic and chilies—and the earthy taste of goat comes through. You can substitute chicken for goat, but don’t get the skinless, boneless chunks; go for the real deal of bones, skin, fat, all of it. A wonderful dish.
Vegetable biryani actually had pieces of broccoli and cauliflower (not frozen peas and carrots), as well as onions and peppers. In addition, it featured pods of searingly hot dried red chilies that only the really brave will eat.
I loved the samosas, particularly those with ground chicken, onions and herbs. The fillings were fine, but the crisp and delicious pastry crust tasted as if it had been fried in clarified butter. The little packages came with a fragrant cilantro sauce and dark sweet chutney that tasted of caramelized fruits.
Another worthy dish was tandoori chicken. Served at virtually every Indian restaurant, it can suffer from overcooking, too much salt in the marinade and a lack of spice. Masala’s version, at least on one sampling, was just right.
The vegetable dishes, such as cauliflower and chickpea or okra, were freshly prepared and plenty spicy, but not overpowering.
The breads were top notch, from the plain buttered naan to whole-wheat roti. There were a couple of desserts: a soupy and sweet rice pudding and a really sweet carrot pudding.
Service was kindly. The atmosphere was plain and comfortable enough. No alcohol was served, but fountain drinks and mango lassi were available. Fruit juices would be a welcome addition; they pair well with spicy food.
8939 S. Old State Rd., Lewis Center
Atmosphere: Plain storefront.
Recommended dishes: Samosas, goat masala, chicken masala, tandoori chicken, breads, vegetable biryani.
Price range: Entrees $5.99-$9.99.
Hours: Lunch 11 am to 3 pm Tuesday through Sunday; dinner 5:30 to 10:30 pm Tuesday through Sunday; closed Monday.
Rating: *** 1⁄2