Most Indian restaurants in the US serve Northern Indian cuisine, in fact most menus are a carbon copy of each other. They will always have a choice of meats (chicken, lamb and fish (usually shrimp) in a gravy based sauce (tikka masala, saag, korma) and there will be the ubiquitous tandoori chicken. But India is a huge country with many distinct regional cuisines, and restaurants in Boston are slowly beginning to reflect that. Our favorite Indian lunch buffet is at Kabob factory in Somerville (between Inman Sq. and Porter Sq.) They will often have dosas, sambar and idii which are all South Indian favorites.
Tamarind Bay opened in Harvard Sq. in 2004 and broke the mold of the standard Indian restaurant. They serve upscale Indian cuisine from all regions of the country. They don't even have a lunch buffet, which is unheard of. Now, they have opened a new restaurant, Tamarind Bay Coastal, that focuses on Indian seafood. If it seems like a strange or odd pairing, let me remind you that most of India is on the water. Come to think about it, the best crab dish I ever had was at Trishna Restaurant in Bombay.
Anyways, all this is to set the scene for dinner last night with R's parents. Once the moment you walk in, you know this is not going to be your stereotypical Indian restaurant experience. The whole room is awash in light blue from the ceiling and walls to the leather banquettes. There is no red, or gold, Hindu statues or bedazzled tapestries to be found. The room was comfortable and serene.
For appetizers we shared crispy cheese tikki patties, grilled scallops and grilled shrimp. The patties were good, but unexciting, after all it was just a fried potato and cheese coquette. The grilled shrimp were a little tough, but the interesting part of this dish was the dried flake coconut they was served on. They cooked the coconut in turmeric and spices so it was reminiscence of a rice dish, but had the texture and subtle sweetness of coconut. The scallops were excellent, sweet and tender, served atop a bed of garlicky spinach.
R won hands down in the entrée contest. His Mangalorean lobster was superb. It was a big chunks of lobster in a rich green curry sauce. The lobster itself was fine, but the sauce! It was so good. I was one step away from picking up the plate and licking the last remnants of sauce off. Luckily, we ordered a bread basket (naan, paratha and roti) so I didn't need to resort to that. I need to find out what is in that sauce, how to make it, or where I can buy it.
I had a whole fish drowned in a brown curry sauce. I don't remember the name of it, nor does the restaurant have the menu online. I found the fish slightly overcooked, but I liked the sauce that went with it. Skip had lamb chops, which I thought were overcooked also. Lenore's shrimp came in a rich yogurt and coconut sauce that was rich and sweet. The entrées came with dal (lentils) and a small side of rice.
We should have stopped there, but unfortunately we went on to have dessert. I knew it would be bad. I tried to leave and go to Athan's for dessert instead, but I failed. The way I feel about Chinese desserts completely applies to Indian desserts. They should just leave the pastry work to the Europeans. They only had two dessert offerings, so we had one of each. The sweet potato cake was a travesty. The “cake” was a cold slice of boiled sweet potato and it was topped with a sickly sweet coconut and mango mixture. The other dessert was the special. I didn't catch the name but our waiter described it as a “cold, sweet rice paste.” It looked like a old creme burlee on top, but the paste had no body and a weird floral aftertaste, like rosewater gone bad (can rosewater even go bad?).
Despite the awful desserts, I will definitely be returning for more of that Mangalorean sauce.
(Keep in mind, most of the info is about their Harvard sq. restaurant)
1665 Beacon St.
T: 617 277 1752