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Review: Warming up to India Oven

Warm matriarch averts cool reception

The Vegetable Samosas  are one of India Oven's  excellent appetizers.

The Vegetable Samosas are one of India Oven's excellent appetizers.

This reliable midtown mainstay is not overly flashy, nor is the service overly friendly, but is grounded in a solid foundation of well-prepared Indian fare.

If you’re the type of customer who expects your server to turn on the charm and pull out all the stops to make you feel special, India Oven is not the place for you.

The exception to the somewhat gloomy service and ambiance here is the matriarch, a consistently warm and welcoming presence. Every meal I’ve ever had at India Oven ends with an pleasant encounter with her, because I invariably spend a good 10 minutes or more waiting for the check from the server and eventually take it up to the register myself. I actually prefer it this way, because the matriarch personifies the gentle, redeeming nature of the food.

There’s an overarching, understated excellence to the food here, an attention to detail that, with a few exceptions here and there, keeps people like me coming back to this 15-year-old eatery.

We started our last visit with three vegetable appetizers: Pappadum ($1), Vegetable Samosa ($2.25), and Aloo Tikki ($2.50). The paper-thin pair of pappadum, nearly as light and crispy as a single sheet of phyllo, carried just a tad more bitterness from the lentils than I’m used to encountering, but the appeal of pappadum is not the wafers themselves but the sauces in which you dip them. India Oven’s trio of a mildly spicy red pepper chutney, a tangy cardamom and cilantro purée and a smooth, tamarind-based sauce have a quiet vibrancy that has you pleasantly lingering with your starters.

The samosas here are consistently first-rate, the pastry notably smoother, crispier and stiffer than puffier, chewier variants. The filling was exquisitely smooth and refined yet still imbued with the natural sweetness of the potatoes and peas. The pair of Aloo Tikka had an appeal akin to latkes or Polish potato pancakes, with a nice sizzle of crisp breading to play off the creamy, mashed potato filling.

The Karhai Lamb entree ($10.95) was emblematic of most of the offerings here. Though the protein portions weren’t overly generous, the deep, evocative flavorings of the sauces more than made up for a few extra pieces of meat. The lamb itself was slow-cooked to an ever-so-tender texture that seamlessly played off the green chiles, diced tomatoes and ensemble of gently aromatic herbs and spices.

The Meat Dinner Table ($13.95) featured Tandoori Chicken, two medallions of Lamb Tikka, ladles of Beef Korma and Karhai Chicken, Basmati Rice, a generous oval of fresh-baked Naan, and a puddle of Raita, the mild cucumber and yogurt sauce that can tame even the spiciest marinated meats. The Tandoori Chicken was the star of the plate, with the dry, vermillion-hued exterior of the leg and thigh giving way to a notably moist and tender interior. The same couldn’t be said for the lamb, as the pair of medallions were a little on the dry and rubbery side. The Beef Korma offering here is distinctly northern Indian, with an elegant base of yogurt and cream divinely outfitted with cashews and raisins and imbued with a meticulously balanced blend of cumin, coriander, ginger and garlic. For $13.95, this is notably satisfying ensemble of diverse tastes and textures.

The entrees at India Oven have a creeping heat that’s amplified by the fact that everything that’s supposed to be served hot here consistently arrives piping hot, a quality that’s often overlooked at other eateries, Indian and otherwise.

Desserts here usually come off as something of an afterthought and our impression on this recent visit held serve.

The small bowl of Rice Pudding ($2.25) was adequate but uninspired, lacking pistachios, golden raisins or any of the subtle yet significant essence of coconut milk and ground cardamom.

The pair of Gulab Jamun orbs ($2.25) had a stubborn texture and somewhat cloying sweetness, leading us to believe that they’d been prepared a little too long ago.

If I’d waited for the check to finally arrive, the delay coupled with the humdrum desserts would have had me leaving less than impressed. Fortunately, I made my usual trip to the cash register, and Mrs. Bhatti’s easy charm and gentle kindness restored my appreciation for India Oven and the overall excellence of its starters and entrees.

India Oven's location is nondescript, but the restaurant's wonderful starters and entrees are enhanced by the warmth of the matriarch.

India Oven's location is nondescript, but the restaurant's wonderful starters and entrees are enhanced by the warmth of the matriarch.



Address and phone: 2727 N. Campbell Ave., 326-8635

Hours: Lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. daily, dinner from 5 to 10 nightly

Prices: Appetizers $1 to $6.50, entrees $7.99 to $13.95, desserts $2.25 to $2.50

Bar: Beer and wine

Vegetarian options: Many, including Saag Peneer ($8.25), Aloo Matar ($8.25), Malai Koffa ($8.50), and Daal Makhani ($7.99)

Desserts: Rice Pudding, Gulab Jamun, Ras Malai (Indian-style cheesecake)

Latest health inspection: A “good” rating Feb. 17. Critical violations were reported for employee’s hands and exposed arms not clean and properly washed, food employees not preventing contamination of ready-to-eat food by limiting bare hand contact to approved methods, and for food contact surfaces not sanitized properly or approved equipment not being used.

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