Bombay Grill gives a new spin to old standby
Special to The Seattle Times
You came to this address during your tie-dye days, straight from philosophy tutorial no doubt, and considered yourself impossibly exotic for ordering tandoori chicken. Flash forward to 2003 and you can't throw a rock in the U District without hitting a plate of tandoori chicken. Something tells you you're not at India House anymore. You're at Bombay Grill.
As Seattle's first Indian restaurant, India House educated a city in the manifold wonderments of tikkas, kulchas, jalfrezis and nans, and inspired a league of competitors. One of those, the upmarket Chutney's Bistro chain, then carried these complex flavors directly into the mainstream. Last year, the owner of the Wallingford Center Chutney's, Rajan Arora, bought India House in order to specialize in Indian seafood. The result is Bombay Grill.
A coat of fresh paint and some restrained design flourishes have refined the space, but it's still the long, narrow bank of window tables you remember, with a private dining room up top and a parking lot — hooray! — alongside. Presiding over the action is Arora himself, a dynamic and personable presence with a gift for hostmanship and a million-dollar smile. (A well-known restaurateur in his native country — he opened, among other things, the first Mexican restaurant in India — Arora starred in a regular cooking segment on a television show called "Good Morning India.") Service, not surprisingly, is ever attentive, if at times overtaxed.
The food can be wonderful. Expect the usual suspects — samosas and nans to start, biryani rice dishes served with raita (yogurt dip), long lists of curries and tandooris, a respectable choice of vegetarian dishes, the daily lunch buffet ($5.95) — along with a more interesting selection of seafood than you're used to seeing in an Indian restaurant.
You start off with a wander through an unaccountably sad little salad bar, but the meal ahead — particularly if you order fish — will be uplifting.
We had no room for dessert, but the choices include tempting tropical cheesecakes and tortes, in addition to a long list of traditional Indian finales.
Keema nan: The nans (six varieties) are nicely done here, bubbled and charred from their trip through the tandoor oven. The keema comes stuffed with a spicy ground-beef filling and features just the right amount of grease. Great for sauce-swabbing.
Mixed grill appetizer: This one's billed as serving two, but the presentation of the three tandoori-cooked meats comes off as somewhat precious for two hungry diners. Still, the meats (chunks of chicken tikka, herb-suffused beef kebab and pieces of ginger- and garlic-marinated chicken breast called bazari chicken) are done very well and offer lovely flavor. You may, for variety's sake, wish to swab them around in the three gratis dips that come to the table with your papadum (crackers). Best of all, these meats are so tender you won't believe they were cooked in a tandoor.
Sri Lankan seafood curry: Salmon, scallops, shrimp and mussels are cooked to voluptuous perfection and presented in a lush Sri Lankan curry, fruity with coconut and tamarind and mildly afire with red chilies. Over the gently ravishing basmati rice, this dish was a solid hit.
Tandoor grilled trout: The arrival of a fish, head and all, burnt black, truly tests the mettle of a diner. Will you flee? Scream? Send it back? If you're at Bombay Grill, best simply to dig beneath the skin, for you will uncover some of the most sumptuous fish you've ever sampled. Marinated overnight in all the wonders of the subcontinent, the trout is fragrant and delicious, and unusually tender. This one's a bit of work — you're flaking away skin, stripping the skeleton and searching in vain for more puddles of the piquant fenugreek-kissed sauce to dip it in — but well worth it. It comes with basmati rice and a beautiful mélange of sautéed vegetables.
Mango margarita: This one took us slightly over this column's $25-per-person limit, but as splurges go, it turned out to be an uncommonly intelligent move. So it wouldn't take the gold in the bartenders' Olympics (the tequila was not hugely in evidence). The concoction, one of several mango cocktails offered, was otherwise so beautiful, so full of the essence of the fruit, so terrific with the cuisine and so utterly refreshing, it registered with this critic as a must-order.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Keema nan $3.50
Mixed grill appetizer $7.95
Sri Lankan seafood curry $15.95
Tandoor grilled trout $13.95
Mango margarita $5.95
Kathryn Robinson: KathAnRob@aol.com
Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company