By Sara Ventiera
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Furthermore (as long as I'm in decrying mode), we have the Palace's masala dosa ($9.95 for two), a transparent crepe made with rice and lentil flour, so crisp it shatters when you bite into it, rolled around a yummy slathering of curried onions and potatoes and paired with a dipping sauce of cool green coconut, coriander, and green chili chutney — why hasn't this magical snack become our national dish? Why haven't fast-food dosa palaces sprung up all over South Florida? And how is it our thirsty tropical populace has escaped becoming addicted to mango lassi ($1.75), a beverage far smoother, richer, and sweeter than any franchised smoothie? Such questions whirl 'round and 'round in my overheated little noggin.
Some people are addicted to mango lassis, our waiter tells us during our third visit. He has a customer who comes in regularly and drinks five tall glasses in a single sitting, he says. You've gotta figure one of these blended shakes, a super-sweet, pungent, deliciously odiferous concoction of yogurt and fresh mango, thick enough to practically eat with a spoon, is going to set you forward about 400 calories. So at one go this customer is putting away more than my entire daily caloric intake. He's definitely not going to fit into any of the teensy beaded fripperies selling next door at Fab India Boutique.
I love a mango lassi as much as the next girl, but with dinner I'll order the salt and mint lassi because, unless it's heavily spiked with something above 80 proof, I prefer my beverage savory. I've given up on the Palace's house wine — neither of the whites are any good and both were served too warm both times I ordered them. But it took me just two sips of the mint and salt lassi to acquire a taste for this drink that has never flagged. It's pretty much an ideal companion for the chicken samosa appetizer ($4.29), a chewy pastry stuffed with potatoes and chicken and livened with ginger, turmeric, and garam masala. It's marvelous accompaniment for palak paneer ($11.99), the beloved spinach and homemade cheese dish with its warm, wafting mists of cumin and coriander. Or with shahi korma ($12.99); chunks of lamb basted in a sauce made from cream, almonds, cashews, and a color-wheel of spices: saffron, cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, onion and garlic bulbs, ginger root, and black and cayenne pepper.
4778 Okeechobee Blvd.
West Palm Beach, FL 33417
Region: West Palm Beach
I haven't had a dish yet that I didn't love at the Palace, from a menu that ranges all over the Indian map — the tandoor dishes of the north, seafood from the coasts, and vegetable dishes, dosas, and the lentil donuts called vadas from the south. Some, though, were so special, so beautifully presented in their copper chafing dishes and sizzling skillets, and so ridiculously cheap considering the amount of pleasure they bestowed, that I'll recommend you try them first. In geographical order, the North Indian classics:
Eight jumbo tandoori shrimp ($17.99), coated with a classic tandoori marinade of yogurt, ground cumin seed and garam masala, among other ingredients, skewered and cooked in a clay oven and served in a skillet piled with gorgeous, just slightly charred vegetables — carrots, onions, broccoli, and squashes.
Chicken tikka palak ($12.99): a Punjab/British Empire concoction consisting of cubes of chicken first marinated and cooked in the tandoori (like the shrimp, above) then mixed into a creamy sauce with fresh spinach. Ideal with a side of paratha (potato-stuffed fried bread) or onion kulcha (potato and onion mixed into tandoori-baked bread and doused with butter), or even an entire basket of mixed breads — garlic naan and butter naan, plus deep-fried puri. Watch your neighboring diners, about half of them Indian families, to learn to eat gracefully with your hands, using the bread as a utensil.
Malai kofta ($10.99): the vegetarian's dream dish. Potato flour croquettes filled with cheese, vegetables, and spices, cooked with onions, green chilies, and curry leaves, and finally plunked into a bath of the most redolent gravy imaginable.
From the East Coast:
Fish moli ($15.99). Fillets of mahi cooked in coconut milk spiced with garlic, onion, green chilies, and curry leaves. We ordered ours extra hot. The firm flesh of the mahi absorbed every nuance of its complicated sauce.
From the South: Melt-in-your-mouth masala dosas ($9.99) with coconut chutney and sambar, a tamarind-based broth. Other choices include cheese dosas, the jumbo-sized ghee roast dosa, medhu vadas (fried lentil donuts), steamed lentil patties called idlis, and the uttapam pancake served with chutney.
For dessert, homemade chai ($1), again highly spiced, is enough. We've tried the mango ice cream and rasamilai ($2.99), a cooked cheese in sweet milk, and I wouldn't rate either above just O.K. If you're still hungry for a sweet, order your third or fourth mango lassi.
Now go get your spice on.