By Staci Wolfson
Indian food is relatively new to me, and the menu names are still somewhat foreign to my mealtime vocabulary. Sure, I know "curry," "tandoori" and "chutney," but I'm lost when it comes to "xacutti," "vindaloo" and "murg kolhapuri."
Ordinarily, not knowing how to pronounce my dinner might make me feel a bit uneasy about eating it, but I'm starting to think that when it comes to Indian cuisine, I could close my eyes, point my finger at the menu, pick something at random and end up loving it and craving it for the next week and a half.
This, by the way, includes items that sound unappealing to me upon first glance (for instance, goat curry). It seems that anything I try at an Indian restaurant is not only decent, but amazing, and Darbar in Fells Point is no exception.
Located in the space that formerly housed Talay Thai, Darbar opened in the spring and seems to have found a welcoming home with its lunch buffets and wide-ranging dinner menu.
It was one of those 100-plus degree days, and the cozy restaurant was a bit too warm; I knew I'd later kick myself for ordering (and eating) too much Indian food, but it was well worth it.
The garlic nan left my dining buddy and I wondering why nan is so much better than all other flatbreads (or all other types of bread, for that matter). And the vegetable samosas, with their succulent blend of spiced peas and potatoes, left me no choice but to just get over my fried food guilt.
For the main course, we split three dishes. To me, the shrimp biryani is to Indian cuisine what shrimp fried rice is to Chinese food. The mountain of spiced basmati rice with shrimp throughout was tasty, but it was overshadowed by the other two dishes.
Admittedly, I was a bit wary of the malai kofta, described as "vegetables and cheese dumplings seasoned with herbs in a fresh tomato and cream sauce." It just doesn't sound all that interesting on paper – but one bite and I was hooked. Malai kofta is the ultimate comfort food with its soft, not-too-chewy, not-too-gooey texture and mild but addictive flavor.
One phrase I've come to know and love since I embarked on my new taste education is "chicken tikka masala." The chicken is roasted and cut into chunks and immersed in a rich, boldly flavored masala sauce made with tomatoes, garlic, cream, ginger and curry and other spices.
I've started to order chicken tikka masala everywhere I go, and even though it tastes slightly different at each restaurant, it never disappoints. Darbar's chicken tikka masala lived up to my high expectations, both as my dinner, and as a lunch leftover the next day.
Nothing is better than finding a restaurant like Darbar, where you can visit and safely expect any dish you order to be a home run. Kurkuri bhindi? Jalfreji? Juhu ki panipuri? I have no idea what I just said, but next time my taste buds and I plan to learn.
1911 Aliceanna Street (Fells Point)
Baltimore, Md. 21231
Lunch Hours: Mon - Fri 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m,; Sat - Sun 12 p.m. - 3 p.m,
Dinner Hours: Sun - Thurs 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.; Fri - Sat 5 p.m. - 11 p.m.
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