This is the second Taste of India, an expansion of the successful Dorchester location of Bostonís first explicitly Bangladeshi restaurant. The owners apparently considered calling the restaurants " Taste of Bangladesh, " but decided that their home country had too much of a reputation for poverty, famine, and flood. I donít know if theyíre right, since Boston has accepted fine restaurants with cuisine from beleaguered countries like Cambodia, Ethiopia, Cuba, Afghanistan, Tibet, and Burma. But Taste of India is a good restaurant by any standard, and one of the best Indian-style restaurants Boston has ever had. The typical Indian menu is well executed, and the Bangladeshi-spiced dishes are exceptionally rich. Since Bangladesh was originally the eastern and Muslim part of Bengal, the food combines the heartiness of Bengali food (which we recently enjoyed at Royal India, in Cambridge) with the rich rice pilafs and lively kebabs of Indian and Pakistani Muslim cooking. The pleasant and rapid service makes Taste of India ideal for dinner before or even after performances at the nearby Symphony Hall or Huntington Theatre.
When you arrive, the table is set with a basket of fresh papadum wafers and three sauces for dipping: an impressive cilantro purée, a thin tamarind sauce, and a fresh onion-chili chutney. Donít fill up, as there is plenty to come, and refills of the papadum basket cost $2. Indian salad ($4.25) is a good idea, but donít look for spice relief, as this mixture of chopped tomatoes and cucumbers also has chili peppers and cilantro mixed in. The effect falls somewhere between a fresh salsa and a Middle Eastern salad.
The mixed-appetizer platter ($8.99) will take care of several diners, with samples of all five listed appetizers. I was especially impressed with the chicken tikka ($5.55 à la carte), ultra-tender chicken marinated in yogurt (and hot pepper); and with the very spicy aloo tikki ($3.55), fried mashed-potato cakes with vegetables mixed in. Mixed pakoras ($4.55) are fritters of either cauliflower or potato, nicely fried and crisp at the table. The vegetable samosa (two for $3.95) is stuffed with fine cubes of potato and cabbage in a large fried pyramid; the meat version ($4.25) is lamb and peas flavored with a lot of cumin. Both samosas fell apart when cut into pieces, so theyíre harder to share than the other items.
For main dishes, you have to hunt through the menu for the " Bangladeshi spices. " Donít miss the gosht biryani ($12.55), a very satisfying pilaf we had with goat. (You can also designate lamb or beef in this dish.) For added richness, itís served with a hard-boiled egg on top. The goat meat is cut-up ribs, actually milder-tasting than some lamb. Other entrées come with a side dish of beautiful, ultra-long-grain basmati rice cooked up with a little saffron, topped with caramelized onions, and served in copper pots.
Shrimp shaag ($14.95) are beautifully handled, very tender shrimp in a sauce of spiced spinach and onions, topped with matchsticks of fresh ginger. Palak panir ($11.55) is also both richer and spicier than the usual versions of this dish of spinach and cheese, in part because the cheese is homemade, with something of the flavor of a rubbery feta.
Murgh curry ($11.55) is another dish transformed by " Bangladeshi-style spices, " this time a lot of cardamom in a mild but very creamy curry. On the bread menu, tandoori roti ($2.55) may be the original rap, a simple-wheat flat bread that gets bubbly and browned in the clay oven. A side order of raita ($1.95), or yogurt salad, is thinner and mintier than what I make at home, the better to cool the fiery spices.
Tandoori fish ($14.95) is actually salmon in " Bengali-style spices. " The tasty spices form a protective crust on the salmon, so if you donít like spices, you can peel them off and have a nicely grilled piece of salmon, with some broiled tomatoes and onions on the side.
Taste of India has a decent wine list, but wine doesnít really go with much of the food. I took a flyer on a glass of Villa Maria 1999 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ($6 glass/$22 bottle), and another of Cyprus 1999 California Chardonnay ($5/$18). The former has the piney-fruity flavors that stand up so well to a lot of postmodern cooking, and it works pretty well with the biryani. The latter is clean and oaky, a good, inexpensive choice for the tandoori fish, maybe. But you may prefer bottled Indian beer, American beers, or thin yogurt lassis. With dessert, there is a small cup of masala tea ($1.75), the original " chai. "
Desserts are important to Bangladeshis, and intensely sweet. Our picks were the kulfi ($3.95), the original ice cream, made here in a choice of flavors. We took mango, and it was like a high-quality mango sorbet. Kheer ($3.55) is the original rice pudding, very creamy and sweet. Rashmalai ($3.55) are fresh cheese cakes, surprisingly unsweetened little patties of white cheese. Gulab jamun ($3.55), possibly the original doughnuts, are here egg-shaped, and soaked in rosewater syrup sweet enough to make my teeth hurt just writing about it.
Taste of India is quite spiffed up for the symphony. The long room is done in shades of olive and yellow, with tables of plexiglass over pink linen. Each table has, also under the plexiglass, beautiful hand-embroidered napkins. There are large, circular murals inset in the walls, Tiffany lamps, a row of urns over the bar, and a fresh zinnia at every table.
Service, by elegant men in ties, is excellent and knowledgeable. Patrons our night (at an early hour, since we were going to an 8 p.m. show across the street) seemed to be South Asian students and professionals, but this place will be discovered by symphony-goers. The background music is unobtrusive Bengali pop, possibly from the film scores of " Bollywood " movies, although I didnít recognize anything from Monsoon Wedding.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at RobtNadeau@aol.com