Going for the Goat
I came for the goat. My gifted chiropractor Larry Marrich had told me to eat more connective tissues in order to help heal my rib cartilage. Goat, so sinewy and lean, practically has as much connective tissue as it does meat, so much that the only way to cook it is slowly until the gristle melts.
This suits me fine. I have a soft spot for tough cuts of meat that are stewed until the fat melts away and the protein-rich gristle tastes like creamy grease. Goat meat is as musky as it is chewy, a gamey flavor that is more manageable when richly spiced. This also suits me fine.
India Grill has three goat dishes on the menu. They are all dazzlingly spiced masterpieces of melted complexity, and also quite similar where it counts: huge mounds of bone-in meat chunks, cut in unfamiliar ways into unrecognizable sections of soft meat and sinew, clinging to bone fragments. Every order of goat comes drenched in a thick sauce that could be called curry in each case, although only the goat curry is named as such. It was defined by a tomato element in the brown, onion-based sauce, with the occasional crunch of pistachio, and the subtle aroma of curry leaf. The kariwala is similar, but with added bell pepper. The bhuna gosht is smoother, with less tomato and lots of ginger.
In between bites of goat, I noticed that India Grill is a good little restaurant. Clues to this effect were everywhere. For one, the dining room was full of people who appeared to be of suspiciously Indian descent. They chattered loudly in English and other languages, ignoring the Bollywood dramas on wall-mounted screens while their kids ate take-out from Wendy’s.
Some of the waiters have accents so thick it’s hard to hear what they are saying. One waiter even gave me the wagging head response to a request. It’s a gesture you see a lot in India, in which the gesticulator’s head appears to nearly roll off the shoulders. It signifies something like “whatever you say, sir.” The politeness is nice, but the pace can be lackadaisical and absent-minded. On one occasion my dal and garlic naan never made it to the table. But India, it’s important to remember, is a place where the squeaky wheels are going to get more grease. The fact that a little squeaking is necessary at India Grill adds to its authenticity. There are other little ways that the experience at India Grill feels altered from the norm in a real sort of way. The bathroom sinks appear to have been cleverly created out of carefully positioned sections of countertop, such that a sloped section of counter replaces the basin.
The menu is prefaced with an epic tale of culinary adventure that began in Punjab, India, where two brothers named Baldev and Rajinder Singh learned to cook at their father’s restaurant. By way of Iran, New York, California and Texas, they ended up in New Mexico, where they founded India Palace before selling it to start India Grill.
I couldn’t help notice the menu’s playful spelling of the word tandoori. At first I thought “t&oori” was a typo, but I quickly realized what they were doing there. I tried the Punjabi lamb chop off this list. It was heavy on the ginger, tender as whipped cream and a joy to eat, especially with a glass of Montes Malbec.
Another noteworthy aspect of the menu is the separate vegetarian and vegan categories. Vegans will probably appreciate this distinction, as many Indian vegetarian dishes contain copious amounts of cheese and butter. Though I’m neither vegan nor vegetarian, I appreciate the distinction as well. I noticed the channa masala on the vegan list and gave it a whirl. This chickpea and tomato dish is one of my favorite veg-based Indian dishes, so I’ve had my share, and this version was distinct. It was less buttery and saucy than usual, with a raspier set of spices. It came garnished with fresh tomatoes, onions and peas, which added sharp raw flavor. Another vegan dish, the baigan burtha, a lightly spiced puréed dish of eggplant and tomatoes, played on the combination of nightshade magic behind ratatouille, and was similarly better the next day as leftovers. The aloo gobi masala, cauliflower and potatoes, and the jalfrezi stir-fried vegetables, were chunky, filling and spicy with the customary whirlwind of flavors that make these simple looking dishes inscrutably complex. Other than the telltale whole, toasted spice seeds, of which liberal use is made at India Grill, it can be difficult to discern where one flavor ends and another begins.
These vegan items demonstrate the true talents of a chef, especially since all too often butter, cheese and meat are used as crutches to make things taste better the easy way. With vegan dishes, the chef metaphorically stands naked before you, with only his skills to impress.
Compared to the vegan dishes, the vegetarian offerings can come across as a bit thick. Some might find this decadent, others distracting. The saag paneer, that perennial mix of buttery spinach and cheese found on virtually every Indian menu, was delicious as always, though not noteworthy. An interesting dish of spinach and chickpeas, called saag cholay, was something like saag paneer with chickpeas in it. It was good, although I didn’t need all of that butter.
One place where I appreciated the butter was the laccha paratha, chosen from the extensive list of breads. It was a big, buttery swirl, flaky and soft, that separated into layers when pulled apart. Wrapped around a piece of goat—screened for bones—it was the perfect utensil.
The only region of the menu that disappointed were the appetizers, several of which were included in the assorted appetizer plate. They were all battered, deep-fried lumps of a uniform, uninspiring shade of brown. Compared to the nuanced diversity of spices in the other dishes, these fried lumps were unimpressive and boring.
The lunch buffet is small, but filling and fast. It has a separate veg/vegan area, a well-stocked supply of chutneys and select deserts. I could have been happy with bowl after bowl of dal, and nothing else. It’s thin, the lentils mostly disintegrated, with dark toasted seeds floating around. The tomato-based butter t&oori chicken was as luxurious as I’d had anywhere. There was no curry goat when I tried the buffet; if that is what you’re after, then call ahead to see if it’s on that day, or be prepared to order it off the menu.
Some of the more interesting desserts are not in the buffet, like the rasmalai, composed of several discs of crumbly cheese in a cream sauce, redolent of rose water. It’s definitely worth a try if you have any room left.
Whether or not you want to get your goat on, India Grill is a great place to enjoy some northern Indian food in a setting that is different enough to give the sense that you’re in a faraway, yummy place. The menu is intriguing, with many unfamiliar dishes even to the experienced Indian food connoisseur. But if there is somewhere else you need to be in short order, I would stick to the buffet.
6501-B Wyoming NE
Hours: 11:30am to 2:30pm & 5pm to 10pm Monday through Sunday.
The Alibi recommends: Goat curry, channa masala, laccha paratha, dal soup