India Garden: Monroeville
3813 William Penn Hwy
M: 12-10 ; Tues-Sat: 11:30-10; Sun: 5-10
As we hit our stride going into Week 6 of the Indian Food-A-Thon, we decided to go to the sister restaurant of a place most of the rating panel has been to many times, Indian Garden. The familiar India Garden, which is located in what we are now identifying as the Bad-Indian-Zone of Oakland, is loved by some and loathed by others, but we were wondering: is the Monroeville location any good, and is it any different from the Oakland restaurant? We can only answer part one at this time, but the answer surprised us all. It probably isn’t going to be the best overall, but almost all the test items met the minimum requirements specific to each dish. Additionally, India Garden: Monroeville put up the first real contenders in the Samosa, Chicken Tikka Masala, and Mango Chutney contests (though I still think that we will find much better out there). People also really liked the Saag Paneer and Channa Masala, but more on all this in the review below. For the intro paragraph, all you need to know is that this week’s adventure was surprisingly good, and fairly priced (~$17). If you need any other reasons to read on, then let me tell you that we had an honest-to-goodness Indian dude with us who shed light on such things as the subtleties of mango chutney, and the nasty digestive pills that gave Thiago H. Jal Jeera flashbacks last week, so check it out!
Like I was saying, I don’t think that India Garden: Monroeville will win best overall, but they had some real interesting flavors and good textures that were notably lacking in some of our previously reviewed restaurants. Siddartha, the self-titled Indian dude, actually gave this place pretty good ratings overall. This was, of course, in comparison to other restaurants in Pittsburgh, not to his mamma’s cooking, so keep that in mind. That being said, he was genuinely impressed by the Channa Masala, even awarding it a 5! This was in part because of the texture of the chickepeas. They were perfectly cooked, holding their shape on the plate, yet disintegrating in the mouth. It was the spiciest dish we received, which was a bit of a downer because nothing was really spicy enough to begin with. Like Tamarind: Savoring India, they did not use a Spiciness Scale of 1-10; but where Tamarind would not add any spiciness to their dishes (even upon request), India Garden at least vaguely asked us about what spiciness we would like. Personally, I don’t care about using a scale, but maybe it does have advantages because every time we do not use the Spiciness Scale, our dishes are far too mild.
What I loved about the Channa Masala was the roasted tomatoes that were mixed in. I LOVE wrinkly hot tomatoes and so this was right up my alley! Despite their presence, some people found the Channa Masala sauce to be lacking the notable tomato flavor they were looking for, and so the ratings were variable on this dish, bringing its average rating down. The Saag Paneer was also well-liked by most, with a balanced spinach-creamy flavor; however, the bowl this dish was served in was not pre-warmed (as Scott P. pointed out) and so half the table got cold Saag. As you can imagine, cold Saag Paneer is not as good as warm! This lead to variable ratings as well, though if you are a Saag Paneer lover, you may be interested to try it here.
When the entrée dishes arrived, they were all in largish bowls, and the food looked BEAUTIFUL! I’ve never seen tastier looking Indian food! We all loved the serving style at Taj Mahal (big tall dishes with tea lights underneath), but there was still something so special about the way this food looked. We were drooling to dig in to what was obviously going to be the best food yet! Unfortunately, even though the food was good, it wasn’t as good as it looked: it is really too bad.
Another good main dish was the Chicken Tikka Masala. The chicken itself still suffered from dryness, but the sauce was the first one I think we have had yet that was truly appealing. It was still perhaps too creamy, but it had a nice flavor and chunks of veggies, and now has taken top place in this category. So too did the Mango Chutney, though truthfully is tasted like it was straight out of a jar of Major Grey’s. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but what it means is that the chutney was jam like, and very sweet. Real Indian chutney is made from fresh ingredients and is not typically a preserve. It should be more like a salsa. It should be spicier that it is sweet. But, mango chutney in this form has become a western staple, mostly in Britain where they love both Indian food and super-sweet stuff, so thus products like Major Grey’s have come about. I have a sick love for this stuff, especially on Tandoori Chicken or Grilled Salmon, but truthfully Mango Chutney in this form is hardly Indian. All that being said, it seems to be important to rate because of its popularity. I am glad that we are, because we have found that it is completely different at each restaurant we go to. At India Garden it was very stereotypical and jelly-like, but at Prince of India it was this nasty, chunk-less, goop, neither Indian nor British in origin. So, I find it worth investigating for this reason. If what you like is Major Grey’s style, India Garden has it.
The Tandoori Chicken that you might put said mango chutney on was decent as well, even though Thiago H. swore that his first piece was pork. Pretty much, Bombay Grill is still winning that race. Another surprise was the Samosa, which better matched our collective memories of what a Samosa should be. A proper Samosa should as least have: a crispy, but not oily crust which is not too doughy; a potato interior of a specific consistency that is neither too mashed nor too chunky; and a deep, warm spice flavor that is more than just plain old curry. This one had #1 and #2, but did not quite achieve #3. But hey, that is hella closer than any other samosa has gotten thus far.
Just about the only really bad things at India Garden were the condiments, in particular the Raita which some people thought tasted off. But this is less important than the main dishes being tasty, which ultimately they were. We finished the meal with a nice dose of Tamarind flavored Hajmola candy. Bleah! To call this stuff candy is a serious misnomer! Ruy L. described it as a party in his mouth, where everyone is puking. NOT YUM! This is the very crud that Thiago found in his desk office, and which gave him flashbacks of Jal Jeera. Seriously, the ingredient list has every element of the Jal Jeera, with the exception of the asafetida. No matter. There is no separating that flavor out anymore: we’ve been tainted. Interestingly, our Indian friend Sidd was forced to take this as a kid, and apparently he got ‘used’ to the flavor after a couple years, and now he even likes it! Oh man – it is amazing how taste can be so adaptable. In any case, these pills are supposed to be digestives, and I have to admit that none of us who took one had an abo-abdo (abominable abdominal) the next day. To really know though, further exploration is required, and further exploration does not seem very likely. Maybe……we might have the balls. I really picture myself as more likely to eat deep-fried asafetida, which all my Indian friends tell me is quite delicious and not at all like asafetida in its raw form. I can see that this might be the case, as deep-frying makes pretty much everything more delicious.
So that about wraps it up for India Garden: Monroeville. I have to say: I was honestly surprised that I liked it as much as I did. Perhaps this was partly due to my preconceived notions about the Oakland India Garden, which I always thought I didn’t like that much (you can get some serious abo-abdo goin’ there). Maybe too it is possible that, because we had a native Indian who spoke Hindi to the waiters, we got slightly special treatment. If nothing else, our water was constantly filled up, which was a huge plus except for the fact that our food was not so spicy as to necessitate such frequent refills. The only real slip-up in the service was a biryani confusion. In spite of the fact that “vegetarian” does not sound very much like “chicken” or “lamb”, I am chalking this screw-up to some kind of miscommunication. In other words, I don’t get the sense that they usually make this kind of mistake. Ultimately India Garden: Monroeville may not win the contest, but I think it was worth going to at least this one time, and I am keen to find out how it will stack up to Ye Olde Oakland India Garden. Perhaps we will know if just a few short weeks!
Chicken Tikka Masala
They have half-off dinners from 4-6pm, so if you go early enough you could get a pretty good deal (in other words, it is more of an early-bird special). Also, I hear their Tuesday buffet is all vegetarian (for temple goers), and pretty good. Sadly, buffet ratings are a whole ‘nutha ball game, and aren’t addressed at all in our reviews.
Check out the latest graphs! Wicked!