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Thursday, October 28,2010

A soft spot for Indian food

By Clay Fong
Located in a mall near the multiplex movie theater and home improvement monoliths of Louisville, Delhi Darbar possesses a provenance familiar to those who’ve been in the area for a while.


Run by the same folks who operated a popular West Pearl Street Indian eatery in the ’90s, this establishment provides low-key but attentive service and generous portions of comforting ethnic fare.

Sitting down with friends Ray and Isolde, I noticed that the comfortable upholstered chairs and Indian music quickly established Darbar’s cred as an inviting spot for a leisurely dinner. The only drawback was that I found myself slouching down in the overstuffed seating and feared that I would slip so low that only my eyes would be visible above the tabletop.

I was able to lift myself out of the comfy chair in time for the arrival of three starters. First up was the $4 bhaji, essentially Indian onion rings. Well-executed here, these had a sweet flavor nestled in crisp texture. The accompanying sauces were memorable, with the tamarind dip nicely balancing sweet, tart and earthy tones. Even better was the mint sauce, which stood out thanks to the addition of mild but still perky pepper. Crunchy $2.25 papadums, legume-based crisps, served as an addictive foil to these well-crafted dips.

There’s also a far-reaching selection of traditional naan flatbreads. We had the $3.50 kabli naan, which nicely split the difference between your basic clay oven bread and more pungent interpretations loaded up with garlic or onion. This variant arrived dotted with nuts and cherry, making for a texturally interesting and colorful take on this Indian staple. The fruit flavor was subtle, adding a distinct accent without calling too much attention to itself or leading the diner to think dessert had arrived early.

Our main courses were served family style, facili tating sharing. Ray, a man given to enjoying two entrees, tucked into the bhindi, a $9.95 meatless course of okra with onion. Given its sometimes unnervingly viscous qualities, okra is a love-hate proposition. Fans of this acquired taste will enjoy this dish, as the veggie’s texture eschewed mushiness in favor of retaining some firmness, although it would have benefited from less oil.

Ray’s $13.95 shrimp biryani consisted of crustaceans over rice. Found from the Middle to Far East, this grain-based dish can feature anything from vegetables to chicken. With meaty shrimp taking center stage, this version resembled a complex take on fried rice. More assertive spicing would have made this course really pop, although that may have obscured the delicacy of the shrimp.

Isolde’s $12.95 lamb curry required no fine-tuning. Endearingly tender meat was complemented by a sauce artfully blending sweet and spicy. A standout cold-weather dish that possessed the best hearty qualities of a home-cooked dish, one could subsist throughout the winter on this concoction over hot rice.

Equally compelling was the plate of $11.95 tandoori murgh, or chicken atop a bed of onion. Served on cast iron, there was no doubting that this had been prepared in the classic high-temperature oven, as the sound of sizzling poultry continued for several minutes. A squeeze of lemon highlighted the freshly prepared chicken’s restrained smoky qualities. This dish underscored Darbar’s strength as a top choice for solidly crafted Indian food in Louisville, as it provided fine execution of traditional fare.

Delhi Darbar 1132 W. Dillion Rd. Louisville 303-665-4848  

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