Saag Paneer, Lamb Vindaloo, Vegetable Samosas
Occupation: Deputy Director, SF Office of Gov. Schwarzenegger
Location: Mill Valley
Favorite Restaurant: India Palace Restaurant
Reviewed India Palace Restaurant: Saturday, November 29, 2008
Born and raised in Marin I have passed Indian Palace thousands of times driving along the 101. I had always wondered about the restaurant located in the Travelodge. Finally, I gained the courage to walk through the plain blue and grey exterior and past the trademark logo of the sleepy bear of the Travelodge and into the comfortable interior where a warmly decorated Indian restaurant thrives.
It was a rainy day and my husband, and I both really wanted Indian food. We had recently moved back to Marin from San Francisco and were not up for the journey to travel across the Bridge to go to our old haunts for samosas. We got brave. We went to the Travelodge. We were impressed. Since that first night of bravery, we have gone back several times with once-skeptical friends, who are now converted fans. We now have a large group of devoted friends that we can call on to meet at the “Travelodge” for dinner.
On my last trip to Indian Palace, we went on a Saturday night, and the place was packed. Families, couples, and groups were enjoying the dynamic flavors of this suspicions location. Our group of four was seated promptly, and we all ordered Kingfisher beer and settled in for what we expected to be another good meal. We decided on our choices for the evening with help from one of the owners, who was serving us that night. We wanted to try some new dishes while sticking to some favorites. We ordered a new dish, the meat samosas, while everyone knew that we also had to get the vegetarian somas as well -- they are my favorite. The meat samosas are filled with ground lamb, and the vegetarian are filled with potatoes and peas. We all enjoyed the flakey crust and loved all three different condiments that are served alongside this filling appetizer.
Next our main dishes arrived. The tandoori mixed grill was big hit. A sizzling platter of fish, kofta, lamb and chicken sent the aroma of grilled onions and fresh vegetables around our table. Everything was cooked perfectly and tender. The vegetables served with the meats were fresh and flavorful. The shahi korma lamb dish was one I had never tried, but it will now become a new staple to my ordering routine. Filled with tender cubes of lamb it swims in a rich curry dish that is buttery-good with complex flavors. The sauce by itself was spooned generously by all of us on fresh Naan. An old standby, chicken tikka masala was also chosen, as my companions that night were not up for the red-hot spicy dish of chicken vindaloo. Both are good, but beware if you choose the vindaloo, you will be ordering many more beers as the menu states -- it is a fiery dish designed to increase beer sales. The Indian Palace’s vindaloo is not for the weak-hearted. The tikka masala is a winner in its own right as it has a creamy tomato curry base with a balanced spice that is delicate and easily enjoyable by those with a taste for milder spices.
All the dishes were cleared with no leftovers, rare as their portions are generous, but I had some big eaters out with me this night. None of us were hungry, but the owner persuaded us, successfully, to try the homemade pistachio ice cream. Um, it was fantastic!! I never order dessert, as I am usually too full at that point, but now I know to save room, as it was filled with a delightful pistachio flavor and very creamy. The ice cream is a delightful way to end a meal of spicy Indian.
Indian Palace is the place to go for Indian food in Marin. Don’t judge a book by its cover, or rather a restaurant by its motel. Dare yourself to walk in, enjoy the flavors, and you’ll be back.
Occupation: Human Services Manager
Location: Daly City
Favorite Restaurant: Thanh Long Restaurant
Reviewed India Palace Restaurant: Wednesday, November 26, 2008
I have not had the chance to try Indian cuisine before. So for my review of India Palace, I took my son (Joey) and his fiancée (Angela), because they love Indian food. I called for reservations a couple of days earlier, and a very nice man informed me on the phone that it was not necessary. We had a nice drive over the Golden Bridge for our trip to Mill Valley from San Francisco. The restaurant was located in an almost random place, where you really don’t expect it to be. First, you drive past many modern business buildings, then a long stretch of road, then there’s a Travelodge where the restaurant is located. We had to make a U-turn because we missed the restaurant the first time around.
It was the night before Thanksgiving when we visited India Palace, so I fully expected an empty restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised that the place was crowded. Unfortunately, because the restaurant is small with limited number of tables, we were seated at a table by the kitchen. As expected, the back-and-forth kitchen traffic was distracting, but the server was very friendly and playful. She made up for our table location. I settled down to enjoy a nice family atmosphere, very casual with soft music in the background. To the right of the kitchen was a glass window where you can observe a man baking naan (listed on the menu as "nan"). I watched the process with three fascinated children and their mom, who explained to us how naan is made (and its alternative spelling). As a novice, I had to ask what naan was for, and she obligingly told me that naan is a popular leaf-shaped bread, baked in clay oven, and eaten with most Indian meals. She also told me that India Palace makes one of the best naans in the Bay Area (which is good to know). After my brief lesson, I was ready to eat.
We decided to try two different combination dinners, so that we could sample several of the restaurant’s specialties. Our food came quickly, beginning with my cucumber salad. The cucumber, the tomatoes, and the onions were curiously cut in large chunks rather than bite size. I had to cut them in pieces, but the salad turned out to be refreshing. A good start to (what we later find out to be) a humongous meal. The appetizer plate came next, filled with the standard variety of deep-fried Indian starters. The samosa was too big for an appetizer and it felt like a meal. As a beginner, I didn’t know how to pace myself (by this time, I was getting so full). I took a bite of the onion bajji and quickly skipped it for the delicious pappadum (crispy, fried lentil wafers) hidden underneath the appetizers. I almost missed it because the oversized somosa covered it. The appetizers also came with a carousel of three sauces -- one tasted minty and cool, the second tasted sweet, and the last one was hot and spicy. The variety served well for diners who have very different tastes.
The main course came with different grilled meats that were too dry for me (the tandoori chicken was the standout), served with grilled vegetables that were more like garnishes. The main course included items served separately in smaller dishes -- probably because it was part of a fixed meal and intended to be sampled. I suspect that if we had ordered the a la carte version, the portions may have been larger. However, we certainly didn’t need bigger portions. There was so much food. The naan, in garlic and green pepper flavors, was soft and delicious. I followed Joey and Angela’s lead by tearing off bite-size pieces and dipping them in the sauces of the main dishes. My experienced companions confirmed that this naan was indeed better than average.
For dessert, I chose the kheer, Punjabi-style rice pudding, but later traded it for the kulfi -- frozen homemade pistachio ice cream -- because the consistency of the rice pudding did not appeal to me. The pistachio ice cream was literally a slice of “iced” cream with an herbal flavor, textured with bits of pistachio nuts -- an interesting ending to an exotic meal.
Like any authentic ethnic cuisines, sometimes it can be a matter of exposure and acquired taste. For me without having any basis for comparison, the meal was a little overwhelming (both in flavor and portion size). I recommend that for four people, order only one combination dinner for two and one other main dish. Overall, India Palace is a casual, family kind of a restaurant. If you’re craving a really good naan, India Palace is where you should go.
Occupation: Retired Superior Court Judge
Favorite Restaurant: Oliveto Café and Restaurant
Reviewed India Palace Restaurant: Sunday, November 16, 2008
Walking up to a restaurant in a Travelodge is not a good first impression. We elected to go for a luncheon experience, in consideration of the busy schedules that accompany this time of year. Outside the restaurant is a sign “daily all you can eat lunch menu $8.95.” Uh-oh, what have we gotten into? We walked inside and were no more comforted as we looked at a bar with chairs spread about in disarray. Then a pleasant young man approached and escorted us to a side room, which seemed full of locals, although we saw few people who looked Indian.
White table linen, stemmed water glasses, and linen napkins made the dining area inviting. It was a very warm day and the doors were left open; the swarm of flies, which came in made the meal seem more like an outdoor picnic. The service was spotty but not off-putting. The young man, who seated us, took our order for beer, served us water, and asked once if we were ready to order and when we were not ready he disappeared. Three times we tried to get his attention before he came by, that is when he told us he would get our server. Our server was polite, but not particularly friendly, but he got the job done. I would rather his style than the pest server, who interrupts conversations to ask if all is well.
That having been said…the food, while not the best Indian food I have eaten, was better than average. The portions were abundant, and, in the main, well executed. The ingredients were not all of the highest quality. The tomatoes in the cucumber salad were as ripe as golf balls, and the lamb in the samosa was sawdust dry. Its wrap, however, was very crispy without being oily. The lamb in both the vindaloo and biryani was not particularly tender but was not dried out so just a minor ding there.
I will say that the sauces were very tasty, even though the lamb vindaloo was less than the described “spicy curry -- only for the brave and hearty souls.” I don’t know if they thought we are wimps or they just exaggerate the hotness. It was, nonetheless, a very tasty dish, but being a “brave and hearty soul," I was a bit disappointed. The naan (tandoori baked bread) was as good as I have had, perfect for picking up the vindaloo and the biryani (fried rice with lamb, saffron, and almonds), which was a very well done dish. One of our group had some very nice tasting pappadum; nice and crispy with good flavor.
The tandoori chicken they served was interesting. One in our group took the self-serve, all-you-can eat menu. His first small portion of chicken was tough (we arrived shortly after opening, so it was probably made in advance). He got a taste of ours, which was better than average in its succulence, although the vegetable bed it had been cooked on was partly charred. So he went back for more when a fresh batch came out of the kitchen and was rewarded with an even better iteration.
The vegetable dishes were quite well done, although the choices were kind of the Xerox menu standard fare. So there was no “something new to try” experience. The dahl was cooked just right, not too mushy and not like shotgun pellets. Their flavoring was just spicy enough to satisfy a spicy-hot lover like me, but not so as to frighten away anyone other than a wimp.
One cannot eat as well as we did, even with the drawbacks, for such a modest price. Big bang for the buck!! We all agreed that if it was in our neighborhood we would probably go back, but it is not a pilgrimage destination restaurant.