As I mentioned in my write-up on Sunday of Spice Bazaar, currently the major/only Indian grocery in Woodbury, that we were up that way on account of having a date to pick up more takeout from Indian Masala. Yes, Indian Masala is in Maplewood but Maplewood is a very weirdly shaped town and for all intents and purposes you could say that Indian Masala is in Woodbury. We first got food from Indian Masala in October. I gave it a glowing review and later in the year placed them, along with Godavari in Eden Prairie, in the top tier of my rankings of Twin Cities Metro Indian restaurants. We’ve been planning to go back for more for a while. And given how much we enjoyed their South Indian offerings I’ve been keen to try their North Indian dishes even though that’s the genre that has soured me on Indian restaurants in the US for almost three decades now. Here now is a report on one such meal of North Indian dishes.
As you doubtless recall, having committed my Indian restaurant rankings post to memory, I’d said that in 2021 I would focus more on restaurants serving the North Indian food most non-desi Americans are far more familiar with. Indeed, I suspect that many of those who read that post—which seems to have been shared widely on Facebook in the area—do not really have much, if any, experience of the dishes eaten at the top restaurants in those rankings. As such they may have been bemused at finding restaurants they’d never even heard of being praised for dishes they’ve never eaten. This review has far more of those more familiar dishes—but I’m going to ease into that coverage by returning first to the top restaurants in my rankings and seeing if they also do those dishes well. If our meal from Indian Masala this past weekend is anything to go by the answer is probably yes.
What did we get?
As we were eating by ourselves this weekend and not with our pod friends, I did not order in my usual excessive manner. This because a fridge full of North Indian leftovers from an Indian restaurant in the US is a recipe for early cardiac arrest, given that almost everything is likely to be chockfull of cream. Now, while Indian Masala’s versions of the dishes we got were very tasty they did not contradict this expectation. To circumvent this, we got a number of grilled dishes to start: the boys got their usual tandoori chicken (in fact, to keep them happy for a few days we got two orders of tandoori chicken) and they loved it again. We got an order of chicken tikkas (pretty good) and chicken malai kababs (better, and with just a bit more tenderizing they would have been excellent).
The mains were goat rogan josh and chicken biryani. Dal makhni and saag paneer on the side. Naans, tandoori rotis and an onion kulcha to mop all this up. Well, I’d also ordered butter chicken. Or at least I’d thought I had: due to a tragic error in communication they took it off the order. But how were the things we did get? Well, the dal and saag paneer were both very good indeed. While it certainly had cream the dal makhni was driven by the lentils and not the fat. And the saag part of the saag paneer was very good, if far cream-intensive than the dal; and the paneer was acceptable, if nowhere close to home-made in texture. The goat rogan josh was tasty enough but it was not proper rogan josh; eating that gravy blind I would have guessed it was butter chicken gravy. But this is not just an Indian Masala issue: the next proper rogan josh I eat at an Indian restaurant in North America will be the first.
The goat biryani had been the one dish at our previous meal that we had been ho-hum about and so it was with the chicken biryani at this meal. Tasty enough on its own but there are far better biryanis to be had in the Metro. The naans were very good as were the tandoori rotis (though I would describe them more as tandoori parathas). The onion kulcha was tasty but a bit of a head-scratcher in that there was little perceptible onion flavour and indeed little visible onion presence in the stuffing. I’m not entirely sure we weren’t given a cheese naan, actually. The mains also came with a fair bit of rice.
I got an order of gulab jamuns to end—three to an order they said on the phone but it turned out to be three very small gulab jamuns to the order. I couldn’t swear these were made in-house from scratch (as opposed to from a mix) but they were made well and better than most dense gulab jamuns I’ve had the misfortune of eating in the area. They threw in an extra order of gulab jamuns and two orders each of kheer (decent as is, much better with some maple syrup mixed in) and mango pudding (I remain not a fan). These extras were not special treatment: a) they have no idea who I am and b) if you pay cash you too will receive some free desserts.
Launch the slideshow below to take a look at the food and scroll down for some more thoughts on the whole experience and to see what’s coming next.
I’m happy to say that their business appears to have picked up since October. On that occasion we were the only ones picking up food at 12.30. This past Saturday, however, while we started out as one of just three cars parked in front at 12.25, at one point there were nine cars waiting at the same time. Why this should be so is no mystery. Whether serving South Indian or North Indian food Indian Masala is very good. I have no regret after this meal about having placed them in the top tier of my rankings. I look forward to going back again in a month or two and trying more of their menu—and maybe next time we’ll even get the butter chicken.
Okay, what’s next? This weekend’s meal will probably be either Somali or Ethiopian. The following weekend is the older boy’s birthday. You’ll never believe it but he’s asked for a meal based on tandoori chicken. That will mean a return to either Godavari or Kabob’s. If you have other North Indian specialists to recommend for February, please write in to the comments.