In the East Village’s “Curry Chasm,” there are so many Indian restaurants jammed into one block that people joke all the food comes out of one kitchen. And it’s true that there is a remarkable “sameness” to the curries and tandooris.
The Bengal Tiger in White Plains serves Indian food of a higher order, with masterful seasoning, quality ingredients and hard-to-find specialties. Owner Simson Kalathara splits his time between his restaurant in Westchester and the one in London, where the curry-eating public is much larger and more demanding. Alternating one week here, one week there, he stays current with new regional specialties and brings them back.
London and White Plains—aren’t we lucky!
Most dishes range between $10.95 and $15.95, with only jumbo shrimps and crabs venturing above $20. Combining high quality and moderate pricing, Bengal Tiger has built such a following that it doesn’t take reservations—it’s first come, first serve (though there was no wait on the Saturday night we were there).
It’s a favorite with dates, seniors, groups of single friends, married couples on a night out, even families with well-behaved children (and how it gladdens the heart to see an 8-year-old wriggling with excitement at the arrival of his spicy South Indian special). In short, it appeals to everyone who likes Indian food.
After being greeted by a Sikh doorman with turban and red uniform, you are seated in one of two dining rooms, each a mirror image of the other. Brightly colored pavilion tops (the kind that might have kept the sun off a Raj) hang from the ceiling, making the room feel tent-like and fun. The collection of Indian art and bronze Shivas are pretty and pleasing, and the whole room has a rosy glow. There’s just enough buzz to make you feel like you’re somewhere other people want to be, yet not so much you can’t hear your companions. Everyone gets a table by the wall, and our server was invisible unless we needed him. No wonder there are so many regulars.
The first dish out was Aloo Papri ($3.95), an unusual cold “salad” made primarily of small, crispy croutons dressed with seasoned yogurt and an interesting tamarind sauce. The flavors were interesting and it tasted good, but the croutons are oily. I would probably “save” my fat for a different dish. We also checked out their tandoori through their appetizer special ($15.95). The skewered chunks of chicken were tender, juicy and had a faint smoky flavor. The two jumbo shrimp were a tad dry, and the minced lamb “sausage” that had been formed around two skewers had interesting seasonings. Two 22-ounce bottles of Flying Horse beer took care of four people for the whole dinner.
About that time an enormous crÃªpe shaped like a traffic cone (and as big as one) landed on the table next to ours, and we immediately canceled our order for poori and nan. This dramatic dish was Masala Dosa ($10.95), which contained what I can best describe as a nice-sized serving of rustic mashed potatoes, richly flavored with ghee (butter without the milk solids), mustard seed and onion. The crÃªpe was hot off the griddle, and we tore into it with as much enthusiasm as the kids at the next table. You can only get this on the weekends, and it’s reason to go in itself.
The server gave us some time, and just when we were ready to eat again, he appeared with our main dishes—a collection of pretty copper pots and a sizzling platter. My favorite was the special Chicken Plum Do-Piaz ($15.95), pieces of chicken breast and a couple of plums in a creamy “kurma” sauce seasoned with cinnamon and a little cumin, turmeric and green chiles. The “heat” was barely noticeable, the fruit gave it a faint sweetness and it was irresistibly aromatic.
Kalathara has introduced the “balti”-style curry that is currently so popular in London. Baltistan is on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it uses a different blend of spices including coriander, fenugreek, and whole cumin and cardamom. We tried a lamb Balti (Balti Gosht, $15.95) and though the sauce is described as “hot and spicy,” don’t let that scare you off. Personally, I don’t like to eat something so hot that I’m drinking water to cool my mouth (not that it works). But Kalathara has adjusted heat levels for an American palate, and what he describes as “hot” seemed to me to be “medium”—hot enough that you notice, but not so hot that it hurts. The chunks of lamb were tender and still a little pink.
Now, one doesn’t see goat on a menu very often, so how could we pass that up? We ordered Bakra Buhna ($15.95), seasoned chunks of meat, bell peppers, onion and tomatoes, served up on a sizzling platter. I think most people would think this was beef if they didn’t know. In any event, it was good and so “easy” to eat that we hardly felt adventuresome.
The only dish that disappointed was the Jalpari Biriyani ($21.95). The little copper pot was literally stuffed with rice and shrimp, and there was hardly any of the promised dried fruit and nuts. It was hard to serve—it would have been better on a platter—and exactly what you don’t expect in an Indian restaurant: bland.
For dessert, we tried Kulfi ($4), two scoops of a delightful cardamom-flavored ice cream, and a very rich rice pudding flavored with rosewater ($3.50). Just like the rest of the menu, there were other dessert specialties we wanted to try but couldn’t in one visit. As it was, we were taking home a bagful of food. But since I know I don’t have to fly to London to get Indian food this good, I’ll be back soon.
144 East Post Rd., White Plains
Lunch, daily from 11:30 am
Dinner, daily from 5 pm
Main dishes: $10.95-$24.95