2731 E. Parleys Way, Salt Lake City ; 801-581-0222
An old Indian favorite has lost flavor and charm in its current location.
Hours: M-S, 4-10 p.m.
Liquor: Beer & Wine
Reservations: For large parties only
Recommended Dishes: Tandoori dishes, butter chicken, shrimp tikka masala.
July 5, 2006
New digs hinder an old favorite
By Mary Brown Malouf
It took our server a second to figure out what to do. In one hand, he held the dish of kheer, rice pudding ($2.95). In the other, he had our check in a black vinyl holder. But the table was so crowded with dirty dinner plates that there was barely a square inch to set anything down. He squeezed the dessert between a half-empty water glass and a cup of chai and, problem solved, plopped the check on top of the Styrofoam clamshell holding the remains of our food.
A shortage of busboys? An unusual busy night? But then, Bombay regulars are used to a line out the door this is a popular restaurant, and doesn't seem to have lost its following in the move up Foothill Boulevard into a former Outback Steakhouse. Maybe service fatigue has set in at what has been a Salt Lake favorite since it opened in 1993, one of the first full-scale Indian restaurants in the valley.
I used to love this place the turbaned Sikh waiters, the dim and glittery interior with gouaches of elephants and hanging lanterns lending some subcontinental mystery, the atmosphere smelling of incense, cumin and coriander. Not to mention the food and the service: the former dependably complex and nuanced, the latter dependably gracious and smooth. But a change of setting, even without a change of menu, resets a restaurant's evaluation to neutral, so when Bombay moved, a revisit was in order.
And from my first impression water glasses dumped in a group on the table by a passing waiter who never broke stride to the last, it was clear that this was a whole other restaurant from the old Bombay House.
The cultural dissonance is unsettling enough. Vestigial Western kitsch still pokes through the overlay of Indian pattern and paintings, making the place feel like a Bollywood Ponderosa. One glass tabletop rested on a wagon-wheel base and despite a few keyhole arches, the booths still had that frontier feel. But those are the kind of decorative details that can become almost charming, or at least amusing, if the food and service are good. Unfortunately, neither seemed to match my memory.
My party started with the "assorted snack" plate ($7.95), holding a selection of Indian snack food: samosas, the little fried turnovers filled with spiced potatoes and peas; onion bhaji, an onion fritter made with chickpea flour, also fried; and chicken pakora, which, for all practical purposes, is a fried chicken finger. The usual mint and tamarind chutneys served their purpose of cutting through the fat feel in the mouth.
Bombay House's menu is fairly standard, as American Indian restaurants go heavy on tandoor-cooked meats and breads, light on spice heat. The kitchen still uses the tandoor clay oven well; the bone-in dark meat of chicken tandoori ($10.95) was moist and aromatic, the skinless legs and thighs tenderized by a yogurt soak and rubbed with a protective spice coating. Chicken tikka ($12.95), a similar preparation made with boneless chicken breast, was dryer and not as flavorful.
But I recall the kitchen's lamb biryani ($11.95) one of the more complicated concoctions, as a kaleidoscope of flavors the sweet caramel chew of raisins, the buttery crunch of cashews, tender chunks of stewed lamb imbued with cinnamon and ginger and the gentle fragrance of basmati rice linking one taste to the next. On my last visit, the delight of distinctness was lost. The flavors were muddied, as though the dish had been sitting too long. The "Raj's chicken" ($11.95) was like an Indian version of American Chinese sweet and sour dry, fried cubes of anonymous fowl mixed with a sticky sauce of mangoes, onions and tomatoes. And chicken aloo ($11.95), was a variation on the same theme overcooked chicken chunks unhappily overwhelmed by indistinct spices, this time without the sweetness and with potatoes (in Hindi, "aloo").
The kitchen redeemed itself somewhat with the marvelous sauce on the shrimp tikka masala ($13.95), a version of India's most famous dish, chicken tikka masala, which is actually Anglo-Indian. Supposedly, chicken tikka masala was the result of a colonial Briton's imperious demand for gravy on his dryish chicken tikka some stories say that the Indian cook just spiced up some tomato soup and poured it on. At any rate, since then the traditional tomato-based sauce has been velvetized with cream, like the sauce on India's famous butter chicken, murgh mukhani, and Bombay House's version is stellar. We sopped up the sauce with the last of our tandoor-baked breads, garlic naan ($1.95) and peshawari naan ($3.95), stuffed with nuts and raisins.
I also liked the lamb vindaloo ($11.95), another Indian dish with European roots but not potatoes the name is a corruption of the Portuguese word for the dish, which was spiced up in the Indian coastal state of Goa where lamb typically substituted for the original pork. There was more vindaloo sauce than lamb in Bombay House's version, but the sauce was unabashedly spicy, in that cumulative way of hot Indian food. The first bite is mild; by the fourth, you begin to sweat.
That's OK; we had ordered cold Kingfisher and Taj Mahal beers, as well as rose lassi ($2.50) and chai ($2.50), so although my guests and I differ in our beliefs as to the efficacy of alcohol or milk products to alleviate chili heat, the remedy was close at hand. Even though a busboy wasn't.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.