Speed Limits

Platters combining all of these offerings and more items were available for $5 or $6. (The shish kebab and pilaf looked especially appetizing.) The Western-style dinner salad garnish was limp and unappealing, though, and the platters would be better off without it. Everything was served on thick throwaway plates after being reheated in a microwave oven that featured a prodigiously loud beep.

Desserts were as good or better than those found in "normal" Indian restaurants. The gulab jamun was spongy and saturated with honey sauce, and I'd make a special trip just for the kulfi ice cream, a combination pistachio crust and creamy vanilla affair on a toothpick-thin round stick. It's delicious, and the stick adds an exotic feel, as if you're eating it straight from a street vendor's cart in Bombay.

Two of us ate much more than we should have, with plenty left over, for just under $22. An average diner can leave India Chicken with plenty of rupees in his or her pocket, a thoroughly satisfying meal falling in the $5-to-$7 range, complete with a frothy cup of lassi (a yogurt drink somewhat like a smoothie).

Like much that issues from the great subcontinent, India Chicken is a paradox. It aspires to be a fast-food restaurant, yet if you were to just zip in and zip out, you'd miss the best part of the experience -- owner Chunara himself. Each day, bespectacled and dreamy-eyed, he mans the counter, standing behind steaming trays of curries and rice, envisioning his chain of McIndian restaurants. His presence lends the establishment a certain E.M. Forster mystique and poignancy. The place pulls at your heart as well as feeds you.

Chunara took so much time explaining the intricacies of his dishes that twenty minutes passed before we finished assembling the two combination plates we wanted. And that was the delight of it. Personally I wouldn't want the food any faster. If you're in a huge hurry, go to Kenny Rogers Roasters. In all fairness it should be noted that a chicken curry sandwich on naan bread ordered for lunch one day took just a few seconds longer to prepare than a chicken pita at Miami Subs across the street.

Whether or not Chunara eventually becomes the Ray Kroc of Curry or the Colonel Sanders of Tandoori remains to be seen. But for now it's precisely the juxtaposition of his future dream and the present reality that gives India Chicken its charm. We would be saddened if, on future visits, we were to find, instead of Chunara's wizened and kindly face, a sulky teenager making minimum wage, explaining, without much passion in her heart, the difference between eggplant alloo and bhel poori.

It's Chunara who makes the place special, handling all the details himself. At meal's end a $1.50 discrepancy on the bill prompted him to recite his views on honesty in business. "Not to worry. I'd never charge you a penny more," he assured us, a crooked finger raised for emphasis, "though I might charge you a penny less." Then he smiled, and it was the type of smile you'd bet your life on.

Go see this man. Step inside his dream for a moment. The food is good, and, fortunately, it's not as fast as it could be. Chunara cares too much about what he does to rush his food, or his guests.

India Chicken Tandoori Restaurant. 705 NE 167th St., North Miami Beach, 305-653-9960. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Sunday from noon to 10 p.m.

Alloo-masala
$4.29
Biryani platters
$4.99
Chicken curry-rice
$4.49
Gulab jamun
$1.19
Kulfi ice cream
$1.50

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