It's early in the morning of May 26, 1996, and I just had one of the best Indian meals of my life, certainly the best I've had in New Mexico.
India Palace is a chain (also in Santa Fe and Saint Louis), but it's a great chain. The Albuquerque outlet is located in a shopping center on the southeast corner of Wyoming and Montgomery. The decor is very nice and the wait staff are extremely attentive. Prices are a shade high for this cuisine, but very reasonable for the extremely high quality.
I tried one of their special combination dinners, the lamb tikka kebab with bengan bartha and aloo mattar. Every detail was perfect, and I found the food highly digestible, which is a contrast to the heartburn I get from 90% of the Indian food I've had.
First to appear on the table was a couple of nicely done papadums, a thin cracker-like bread, and a caddy with three very tasty chutneys---two sweet chutneys and a mint chutney with a fair amount of heat to it, even by Albuquerque standards.
The lamb was almost fork-tender, cooked in a tandoor and served with plenty of raw white onion. Lamb this tender is unusual. But what really made me swoon, almost to the point of re-enacting a certain scene from ``When Harry Met Sally'' as my good friend Sean Kelly is wont to do, was the two vegetable dishes.
Bengan bartha is an eggplant dish that I often use as a difficult test of Indian restaurants. Aloo mattar is a potato and pea curry with some tomato. I'd like to go into detail about these dishes, but one of the characteristics of great food is that you can't tell what's in it---no one spice or ingredient sticks out of the blend. All I can tell you is that they were superbly balanced, harmonious combinations of flavors.
The garlic naan, a flat leavened bread, was also superb. It wasn't quite as thick and chewy as Jeanne Bonk's naan at the Empress of India in Santa Clara, CA, but it was wonderfully soft and tasty and worked very well with all the sauces.
For a beverage, I had the mango lassi. It was just the best version of that I've ever had.
All in all, this is definitely a restaurant for lovers of Indian food. Whether you're a longtime devotee, or someone wanting to try this cuisine for the first time, this is the place to start, unless you're closer to Santa Clara. I still think Jeanne has a slight edge because she handmakes everything to order and has a much wider range of recipes, but it's a tough call. I think I'll try them both a few hundred more times before I decide.