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First Bite

Kabab and Curry House

By Heather Irwin

Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. We invite you to come along with our writers as they--informed, intelligent eaters like yourselves--have a simple meal at an area restaurant, just like you do. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience.

"How is your meal? Good, yes?" asks our host. Counting his arrival, five--wait, six--people are now serving our two-person table. It's a barrage of hospitality! But judging from the happy, curry-stained faces around me, we're not the only ones getting the Maharaja treatment at Santa Rosa's newest Indian eatery, the Kabab and Curry House. For each of the dozen tables in the narrow restaurant, an army of staff spills out, filling water glasses, offering baskets of papadam and dishing up steaming brass curry bowls.

All this attention is raising my rather low expectations of what a curry house should be, because I'm thinking of New York and London's ramshackle mom-and-pop curry houses where things like décor and, well, clean forks, are something of a luxury. So, linen napkins? Elegant yet understated Indian interior design? Hovering staff and $16 entrées? Suddenly, broken flip-flops seem a less-than-appropriate wardrobe choice.

"You need another minute?" asks our eager waitress as we scan the nearly 100-item menu. Unless you know a masala from a jhalfrezi from a khorma (and offhand, I don't), plan to spend some time reading descriptions. And even if you do, the brand-spanking-new, mostly Caucasian waitstaff still have pretty much no idea what you're ordering anyway.

We take on the menu ourselves. Instead of an appetizer, I try the mulligatawny soup ($4.50), a creamy, puréed blend of lentils and curry. Meaning "pepper water," the soup is an Anglicized invention of British soldiers demanding a soup course during their occupation of India. Though usually thick with lamb and meat, this version is lighter, simpler and a lot less chunky, letting the earthy lentils shine. I'm disappointed, however, that I didn't order a samosa as well, which look deliciously homemade.

Breezing through the entrée list, I pick a chicken (murgh) tikka masala ($13.45), a dish of tandoori chicken smothered in a tomato cream sauce. Think of it as the pad thai of Indian food; it's on every menu and is completely approachable to even the most squeamish eaters. We also order the lamb (gosht) khorma ($16.45), boneless cubes of lamb stewed in a cashew cream sauce.

Both are delicious, especially with a side of mango chutney ($2.50). However, telling the two apart is challenging. Both have the spicy, creamy, complex flavors of curry, but neither the tomatoes of the tikka nor the cashew flavor of the khorma stand out enough to really differentiate the two. The tender, sealed-in moistness of the lamb wins our favor, however, over the slightly dried-out quality of the tandoori chicken.

On the side, we try spiced, steamed rice called pulao ($4.50), as well as an herbed Indian flatbread called onion kulcha ($3.45) and boondi raita ($3.95), a cucumber yogurt dip with tiny fried chickpea balls on top. We congratulate ourselves on our choices, which somehow include all six Indian flavors of sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter and astringent.

Kabab and Curry House also features a one-page wine list with midpriced wines as well as "exotic Indian cocktails." The mango lassi ($4), an authentic herbed yogurt drink, is a better choice. A bar menu is available from 2:30pm to 5pm most days, and the wooden bar that dominates the center of the restaurant is a perfect place for people watching. An abbreviated (only 76 items) takeout menu is also available for hurried lunch and dinner diners. Then again, how often do you really get a staff of 14 at your beckoning?

Kebab and Curry House, 507 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. Lunch and dinner daily. 707.523.7780.

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From the July 20-26, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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