Melanie Wong for The Masala Hounds | Nov 4, 200305:16 PM     24

Eight chowhounds met for lunch at Sultan today for a ChowScrub (tm) of the kitchen’s talents and the first of the Curry-Diving series. We filled the main section of the banquette seating facing the mural of the Mughlai court scene (which is now about half completed). The veterans of the other Tandoorloin joints looked around, rubbed their eyes, and said, “this is really nice!” And, indeed it is, a calm and quiet spot for lunching downtown.

With the assistance of our helpful server and armed with Squid-kun’s recs, we navigated our way through the menu to the best offerings. Overall, the cooking featured good quality ingredients, fresh flavors, and careful preparation for a very solid effort. We had only one true disappointment on the table.

Because we ordered so many items, instead of one reporter, we’ve split up the posting task among the diners and you’ll be hearing from us individually. Here’s the list of our dishes.

Meat samosas (2 orders), $3/5 pieces

Seekh Kabab (made with lamb, not beef), $3.95

Kharai Chicken, $5.95

Makkhani Chicken, $5.95

Kofta Dil Pasand (with minced lamb today, not chicken), $5.95

Palak Paneer, $4.95

Daal Panch Ratni, $3.95

Vegetable Biryani, $4.95

Prawn Curry (special order), $???

Charga (special order), $7.95

Boondi Raita, $2.50

Mango Chutney, $1.00

Naan, $1.00

Garlic Naan, $1.75

Onion Kulcha, $1.75

Ice Cream Falooda, $2.50

Chocolate Kulfi, $1.95

Keser Pista Kulfi, $1.95

Mango Lassi, $2.00

Lassi, $1.50

Chai, complimentary

On the Prawn Curry – initially I was not that impressed with the creamy yellow curry sauce and the firm prawns (six to an order). But the careful composition began to grow on me and the subtle turns of flavor became more apparent. Unlike other seafood curries, the saucing was infused with the flavor of sweet and fresh shrimp and not just a generic add-on. A little briny, it reminded me of lobster bisque with a twist of curry and balanced with a note of acidity from fresh tomato pieces. Stephanie nodded and said, "lots of shells to make that stock". When our waitress was clearing, I stopped her from removing this plate to let me have one last taste of this wonderful sauce.

For our trio of desserts, the two kulfis were very special, as they’re house-made. We were about evenly split between the chocolate and the pistachio-saffron flavors. The milk chocolate one was studded with bits of chocolate and some pistachio. Shocker commented that it tasted like a chocolate malt. The keser pista flavor tasted intensely of saffron, taking it over the edge to the slight bitter and medicinal aftertaste that bothered some. I thought it was wonderful, and the nuts were fresh and not water-logged. The falooda was colored rose-pink and rosy in aroma and flavor with rice noodles, tapioca pearl, and a dollop of vanilla ice cream floating on the rich milk. Each of us had a straw for sipping our share.

Our bill was $120, including tax and 24% tip, or $15 per person for a very substantial lunch. Our server and the kitchen personnel thanked me for bringing in a big group. Hopefully, this drums up more business for them. They certainly deserve it.

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