Two recent entrants to the inexpensive North Indian-Pakistani halal dining scene Sultan and Darbar - have taken a new tack to differentiate themselves from the pack. Both provide attentive table service, pleasing décor, and cooking to order in small fresh batches instead of reheating pre-cooked dishes - all at the same price point as the Tandoorloin brethren.
SULTAN, open for two months, occupies a narrow space in the Ramada Hotel opened up by mirrors and a wall-size mural of a Mughlai court scene. A saffron red and turmeric-colored upholstered banquette runs the length of one wall with a line of black granite-topped tables. Not very busy yet, the soft music and quiet of the room at lunch time on Friday was a nice respite from the day.
I tried the Mutton Dum Pukhta, $5.95, Naan, $1, and Mango Lassi, $2. Six cubes of braised lamb were coated with a creamy curry sauce lightened with a bit of fresh tomato. The thick yogurt used in the sauce was housemade, less tart than other brands. I ordered this medium spicy to learn to calibrate with the kitchen and it came in at just about what Id considered medium hot. The naan with a light brush of ghee was nicely blistered, and while not as chewy as my favorites, was fine for mopping up every bit of the rich sauce. The mango lassi was very good, as good as Naan n Currys.
The menu includes some unique specials, a few offered each day for more variety. Of particular interest is a selection of Muglai-style Chinese dishes that will be offered on weekends as business builds. My server recommended that I try the samosas next time, as these are made in a smaller size and more delicate style. This is a place that deserves further checking out.
DARBAR, opened four months ago and touted in the thread linked below, has made service a priority. The owner, a food and beverage veteran of the Mark Hopkins, wants to elevate the experience above the fast food atmosphere at the Tandoorloin spots.
On a warm night last week, I snagged the outside table for a first visit. With a view of Shalimar and Victors Pizza across the street, it was a good vantage point for watching the slice of life that is Polk Gulch. The food was even better Sarson ka Saag (mustard spinach), $5.95, Achar Gosht (goat), $5.95, Darbari Chawal, $1.49, Seekh Kebab, $2, Naan, 99¢, and Mango Lassi, $1.99. The mustard greens were intensely spiced with a fierce heat, even though ordered mild, that numbed each side of my tongue with fire. The goat had a cleaner and brighter impression, much different than the long stewy flavors of other versions Ive tasted. Ordered medium spicy, I found this on the mild side. The chawal rice was just about perfect, with barely chewy separate grains and the faintest touch of oil to highlight the cumin and saffron spicing. The seekh kebab, made with all ground beef, was moist but lacking the deft seasoning and char of Shalimars. The huge naan was puffy and light yet satisfyingly chewy with nice blistering and enriched with a brush of ghee. The mango lassi was somewhat chalky and low on fruit intensity.
Because the dishes are prepared to order, the level of spicing and heat can be specified. The menu includes rotating daily special dishes and also a four-course lunch special for $6.99 and a five-course dinner special for $7.99. Free delivery is available for a limited area.
(located in the Ramada)
339 Taylor St.
1412 Polk St.