It was our older son’s birthday this Sunday and as part of his special day he requested tandoori chicken. Given the snowfall on Saturday and the indeterminate status of the local highways and roads I was wary about going too far to get it. The options within easy range were Kumar’s in Apple Valley—a sound choice based on past experience—or a place we’d never eaten at or gotten food from before: the Burnsville outpost of the India Palace chain. I opted for novelty—and also, I admit, the chance to expand my survey of older North Indian places in the Twin Cities metro. A good decision? A bad decision? Read on.
India Palace has four Twin Cities metro locations as per its website: this one in Burnsville plus one each in Woodbury, Roseville and Uptown Minneapolis. But wait, there’s another India Palace website that lists two locations, in Mankato and Eden Prairie. The menus are similar but not identical. Related? Breakaway factions? I do not know but suspect that there is some connection beyond the name; after all the “About Us” page of the Burnsville location refers to their food being available “within Mankato city limits”. Nor do I know how much consistency there is across the Burnsville-Woodbury-Roseville-Uptown quartet but I am forced to say that on the basis of this meal from the Burnsville location I am not terribly motivated to find out. It wasn’t a terrible meal but it also wasn’t anything approaching a good one. But before I give you the details on what we ate, a little more about the restaurant.
It is located on County Rd. 42 not too far from the Burnsville Costco. This Star Tribune article from 2015 refers to a brewpub named Nutmeg, co-owned by India Palace’s owners opening right next door. That does not appear to have lasted very long; it was replaced in late 2020 by Ineffable Brewing whose ownership appears to be different. I can only hope that they did not decide to continue the “British Colonial” menu that Nutmeg was apparently serving. As for India Palace itself, it is a large, bright and attractive space. The food, however, did not make the strongest impression.
Now you might say that it’s unfair to judge them on a single takeout meal and that’s true. Two caveats though: first, we have not eaten in at a single Indian restaurant since the pandemic began and have had far, far better takeout meals brought home from places twice as far away; second, some dishes had problems of a different kind. For example, we ordered two kinds of kababs: the lamb seekh and the chicken tikka from the appetizer menu. Both featured kababs so hard as to almost entirely resist the tooth. And this did not appear to be the case because they’d been overcooked; rather, it seemed to us almost certainly the case that they were not freshly prepared but rather frozen, incompletely thawed and reheated. I don’t know if that’s exactly what was going on but if this is what their kababs are like fresh then that’s an even sadder story. Thankfully, the birthday boy and his brother both enjoyed the tandoori chicken that had been the impetus for the meal.
What else did we get? Dal makhani, which was acceptable; mushroom masala whose gravy seemed likely to have been drawn from the same rich, red source as the butter chicken which we also got. Both were okay if monotonous. I should note here that there was some excitement involving the mushroom masala but not of the positive kind: I almost swallowed and then almost choked on what turned out to be some species of highly thorny burr. I assume someone missed it while cleaning the mushrooms—this meal could really have had a bad end if I’d swallowed it. Also on the table were a chicken biryani—inoffensive though served with a curiously astringent raita—and a mixed veg curry that was included with the seekh kababs. This last may have in fact been my favourite of the savoury dishes, though that’s not saying very much.
All of this came with a lot of rice and we also got a couple of naans that were okay. To close we got an order each of gulab jamuns and ras malai. For reasons not clear to me we seem to have been given a second order of gulab jamuns (I assume they don’t serve 6 pieces to an order) and also some kheer. None were memorable. And, oh yes, we got an order of veg samosas to eat separately with tea in the evening. The samosas were large and serviceable.
For a look at the restaurant, the menu and the food we ate, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down to see how much it all cost and to see what’s coming next.
Price? With tax and tip, almost $150. I’m sorry to say that I think that’s not something I’d pay again for food of this anonymous quality. Not when Kumar’s is just a few miles down County Rd. 42 in Apple Valley and when Aroma and Kabob’s are not so very much further away in Bloomington. For that matter I’d pick Persis and Bay Leaf in Eagan over India Palace any day as well. I’m not just saying this because this is a cookie cutter North Indian curry house of the old school. So too is India House in St. Paul and we liked that meal quite a bit more.
Again, this was not a bad meal per se—though there were some things that were not good at all. It’s just that there was nothing really to recommend any of it over the competition. Based on their online reputation they appear to have a strong following anyway and I doubt they’ll be hurt very much if at all by my dissent. I suspect they are catering to a very different audience than the newer Indian places and have little incentive to change. That’s good for them and good for those who enjoy what they serve but in my opinion there is now far more interesting and better Indian food available in the Twin Cities metro, including at places not very far away.
Alright, what’s next? Another Los Angeles review this weekend. As next Tuesday is the first of the month there won’t be a restaurant review next week. Once we’re into February proper I hope to get up to St. Paul for some Thai food. Let’s see how it goes.