Something for the Stomach
By Andy Cheng
I’ll be frank with you, reader. I’ve never had the adventurous audacity to sit and enjoy a meal of Indian food. No . . . not since the fateful day my roommates and I tried our luck at Taste of India, an all-you-can-eat Indian restaurant situated in a shanty back alley of Riverside invisible without inadvertent notice, and within two hours all had a case of surprise gastrointestinal distress. Nor have my meager experiences with Indian curry hitherto resulted in anything more benevolent than feeling like shit. This kind of makes me the perfect critic of the restaurant!
Punjab Palace resembles in no part a palace, located in a disadvantageous plaza on University Avenue between the slummier side of town and UCR. Yet, upon entering the restaurant, there is a noticeable uniqueness: the restaurant harbors a clean and fancy aesthetic. A wave of aromatic Indian cuisine hits you like a vision, and the tantalizing smell of mouth-watering curry entices even skeptics like me into giving Chicken Tikka Masala a second chance. The diner-style design of the interior gives customers a feeling that this isn’t a cheap grab-and-go restaurant.
I don’t know what it is inside Indian curry, but Punjab’s curry is amazingly delicious. Let’s go chronologically. Upon ordering from the extensive menu of curries and other Indian favorites, tables are served these giant potato chips called lentil chips. These crunchy, spiced chips come with two sauces that are supposed to be slathered on and eaten together, with one resembling A1 sauce and the other like relish (but of course they are not that). Anyways, those appetizers are complimentary with your meal.
The best part, obviously, is its astonishingly exquisite curry. Served on metallic platters that look small but that is in fact illusory due to how much meat is loaded within, the sloppy-looking curry is much more flabbergasting to taste than to see. The Chicken Tikka Masala, for example, was jam-packed with an explosion of flavor in every satisfying bite. Tender chicken pieces drenched in whatever “Tikka Masala” means in Indian and three levels of spiciness choices make this place a hole-in-the-wall all-star restaurant in the vicinity. Pour a spoonful of that curry on special Indian rice or naan bread and you have a meal fit for Indian gentry. Chicken Garlic Curry and Karahi Curry are also highly recommended. A sweet homemade cheese ball is given as a complimentary dessert.
Now I must beg for a pardon for having to mention that such fine cuisine is not for the penny-pinching. Yes, the food comes at a hefty price. What makes Indian food so expensive? I don’t know . . . probably the fact that the rice and naan bread aren’t complimentary. One would assume so, being that no one eats curry without something stock. To be fair, though, rice and naan bread are on the menu, so I suppose we were warned. In addition, and I wholeheartedly feel that this must be noted, the front clerk gave us a presumptuous attitude when we asked for separate checks, asserting that it would be simpler for us to pay equally when each of us ordered differently priced items.
Yet, despite its pricey menu, the curry is well worth its weight in price. Where else nearby can you find such good quality Indian food? When you chow down into their delicious food, you immediately get a sense that this culture is one truly deserving of culinary merit.
Punjab Palace, 1766 University Ave. Ste 102, Riverside, (951) 686-9968; www.punjabpalacecuisineofindia.com. Sun-Sat, 11:20AM-10PM; closed 3-5PM. V, D, MC.