Wednesday, July 29, 2009

India Palace

Indian restaurants can be a refuge for vegan diners or they can be a nightmare, because of latent ingredients such as whipping cream, butter (ghee), and yogurt.

For years, India Palace has been an institution for fine Indian dining in Dallas. According to its website, India Palace has been named "Best Indian Restaurant" by the Dallas Observer for the past 12 years, and has garnered top rankings by several sources, including D Magazine, the Dallas Morning News, and the Zagat Survey. India Palace has been in its current location in a shopping center in North Dallas since 1985.

In light of its renowned reputation, I set off once again to determine whether India Palace offers similar options for vegan diners. Pardeep Sharma is the man behind India Palace. He is also responsible for the fast, casual spinoff, the Roti Grill. On each of my many visits to India Palace, Mr. Sharma's presence looms large--that is, if you can catch him. Not only does he greet customers, answer phones, and work the dining room, but he was also seen expediting orders from the kitchen on a busy night. With Sharma constantly on the pulse of this restaurant, it's no surprise why India Palace continues to pack the house.

On my latest visit, I spoke with Mr. Sharma and he clarified that India Palace does not use ghee in any of its dishes, which can be the most lethal ingredient for vegan diners. "No, we don't use any of that stuff -- only oil," said Sharma. He listed off a dozen other items on the menu that were vegan. "There is also no dairy in the Roti bread," he proclaimed.

While deliberating the many menu choices, guests are welcomed with a complementary plate of (vegan-friendly) pappadum which is a type of cracker made from lentil flour, along with a tray of dipping sauces-- tamarind, mint, and red pepper.

These traditional appetizers, along with the elegant decor, linen napkins, and formal table service, begin to distinguish India Palace from its competition, and from its fast, casual counterpart.

One of the most exciting focal points in the restaurant is the tandoor cooking station, which is just visible behind a open-kitchen type window. The tandoor is a cylindrical clay oven which is commonly used for cooking skewered meats and baking fresh naan and roti bread. Unfortunately, there are not many vegan options from the tandoor.

On this visit, I tried two vegetable dishes: the Bhindi Do Pyaza, okra cooked with diced onions and spices, and the Saag Channa (my check said without cream-I don't know if it comes standard with cream or not), spinach cooked with chick peas. The dishes are inherently suited for sharing, and intended to be eaten with basmati rice or scooped with bread baked from the tandoor, such as the vegan-friendly Roti bread. Both dishes were each complex in their own regard. This is not surprising since India Palace uses a blend of different spices for each one of its curries. Sharma himself could hardly differentiate the mixtures for each dish.

Bhindi Do Pyaza

Saag Channa

On a previous visit, I had the Channa Balti, which is a less well known dish representative of northwestern India. Balti-style dishes are both cooked and served in a cast iron pot (called the "balti"). Again, this dish is flavored with different spices including onion, garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, fennel and mustard seeds.

While India Palace may set the bar for Indian cuisine in Dallas, I think the bar could be raised slightly higher with regard to their vegan-friendliness. Whereas the variety of vegan-friendly dishes may be noteworthy, it is hard to discern whether there are any plot spoilers among them.

I mentioned to Sharma that it would be extremely helpful for vegans if they could clarify on their menu with something as simple as a little "v," since there were apparently so many items which would be suitable for vegan diners, that would otherwise go under the radar. He acknowledged this with a nod, before moving on to the next order of business.

India Palace
12817 Preston Road #105
Dallas, TX 75230


Eddie G said...

Drew- I want some pappadum NOW :P

Anonymous said...

Yum, I will deff. be trying this place... good alternative to the cosmic cafe.


Monique a.k.a. Mo said...

Saag Channa! Sweetness. I am craving Indian now.