Pandemic Takeout 70: India House (St. Paul, MN)


At the end of last year I published my rankings of Indian restaurants in the Twin Cities metro. (In case you missed it, you can find that post here.) In that post—which largely celebrated newer South Indian specialists—I rashly announced that in 2021 I would make more of an effort to explore more old-school North Indian restaurants as well—the kinds of places that have long been the mainstay of the Indian restaurant scene in the US. Of course it is now mid-November and I’ve not really done much of this exploration. I’m going to try to hastily make up some ground at the end of the year. Here first is a review of a recent takeout meal from India House, a longtime standby for those looking for chicken tikka masala, dal makhani, sag paneer etc. in and around Grand Avenue in St. Paul.

India House appears to have been relatively late to re-open to in-person dining. As per the gent who took payment they’ve only been open again for two months or so now. We, however, are not yet open to dining in and India House does not have a patio, heated or otherwise, and so it was takeout for us. (Though there did not seem to be a buffet laid out at noon on Saturday, I assume they have a weekday lunch buffet.)

One look at India House’s menu will be enough to locate them in the larger graph of Indian restaurants in the US. Other than one dish that involves coconut milk there are absolutely no nods in the direction of South India (please don’t mention the vindaloo). The menu, which consists of ye olde curry house classics, seems large but bear in mind that a lot of it is the same 8-10 dishes repeated in chicken, lamb, seafood and beef iterations. This is not the kind of place that Americans who are looking to have their knowledge of Indian food expanded (should) go to. But good North Indian curry house food is good food too and I was curious to see if that is what they put out.

There were six of us eating: four adults and our boys. This meal had also been occasioned by the boys asking for tandoori chicken and that—along with naans—is what they ate. It was neon red-purple but they didn’t hold that against it. The adults ate quite a bit more:

  • Chicken Tikka: The look of the tandoori chicken had me worried about the chicken tikka but it was actually done quite well. The chicken had been marinated well and was tender without being over-tender. But while I liked that it was not overwhelmed by spices I thought it could have used just a little more punch (not from chillies but from cumin/coriander etc.).
  • Dal Makhani: This was also a pretty good entry in the genre. It was not overwhelmed by cream and the flavours were nicely balanced.
  • Baingan Bharta: Not quite as much of a charred flavour as I would have liked but this was quite tasty (and different from how I make it which made for a nice change).
  • Saag Paneer: And we also quite liked the saag part of this dish with the spinach flavour coming through well. The paneer, alas, was as forgettable as it usually is in such restaurants.
  • Chicken Makhani: This was, alas, more than a bit blah. That tomato soup flavour that often mars the dish in these settings and way too much cream. And the rubbery all-white meat chicken didn’t help matters.
  • Boti Ka Masala: This dish of small pieces of lamb grilled on a skewer and sauteed with a tomato-based masala was a mixed bag. The sauce was tasty but the lamb was too chewy.
  • Fish Curry with Coconut Milk: The fish was salmon, I think, and it was not over-cooked, which was a pleasant surprise. The sauce was tasty if rather cloying (especially with the chicken makhani also on the table).
  • Lamb Biryani: I was not as much of a fan of this as some of the others. I thought the rice was a bit too hard and the whole a bit too greasy.

In addition to the boys’ naans we also got a bunch of tandoori rotis (good) and an onion kulcha (ho-hum but it’s not the kind of thing that does well as takeout). And the food came with a lot of steamed basmati rice. The takeout bags also contained two containers of dal, one marked “hot” and one marked “medium”. They were otherwise the same dal. I’m not sure if they were included in error or if they came with something we ordered (the biryani?). They were fine.

For dessert we split an order of the rasmalai and an order of the gulab jamun. These were rather tiny portions (I should have asked) but were surprisingly good.

For a look at the restaurant (which is quite attractive) and the food, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down to see how much it cost and for some preliminary thoughts on where I’d slot it in the larger Indian restaurant scene.

The dal and the bharta were probably my favourites of what we ate. But it was a decent meal on the whole, above average for the genre and certainly quite a bit better than any incarnation of our town’s very popular Indian restaurant (not currently in business because of a catastrophic fire in their building). But by the same token there is nothing to hugely recommend about most of this. If this is the kind of Indian food you really like then you’re likely to get a good version of it here. For more nuance and variety I’d recommend the new’er places (all of which turn out better versions of these classic North Indian dishes too). Of course, if you live or work in the vicinity that’s its own recommendation. But for us this is as far away as Indian Masala or Godavari—and even Kumar’s is only half the distance.

Subtracting the kids’ food it was probably enough food for 8 adults (factoring in leftovers) which would I think bring the cost to about $25/head. Which is also, I think, a bit high for the quality of the food. (I apologize for the vagueness re price but I forgot to pick up my copy of the receipt and the total with tip is yet to post on my credit card account.)

What’s next? I’m not entirely sure. It has been a dangerously long time since we got food from Grand Szechuan so that might have to be next. Let’s see.


 

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