- 1850 S. Hurstbourne Parkway, Louisville, KY, 40220
- (502) 493-8899
- Overall User Rating:
- (8 ratings)
- Lunch Buffet: 11:30-2:30 p.m. daily; Dinner: Sunday through Thursday 5:30-9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 5:30-10 p.m.
- Official Web Site:
Faced with the selection of northern Indian dishes at Shalimar Restaurant, I turn into a dithering, flip-flopping fool.
I can't hold myself to any one thing. I want to be firmly pummeled from all directions by the sheer enormity of flavors and textures. My tongue craves moments of prickly heat from bright green mint chutney allayed by the sour tang of homemade yogurt.
I can't decide among stews in rich, buttery sauces, pungent curries or the utter clarity of skewered meats and poultry prepared in a tandoori oven.
Choosing a bread fills me with anxiety about choices I'm missing: Shall I have simple wedges, charred in the hot tandoori oven, or stuffed options filled with onions or cheese or infused with the flavor of fresh garlic?
And finally, should I indulge in the melting richness of the meats and poultry, or opt for the purer, sharper flavors of vegetarian items?
So I don't choose. Sometimes I visit during the lunch buffet ($6.99), one of the most rigorously tended in the area, and one of the best bargains.
Sometimes I visit with a group and share, and other times I order either the vegetarian or non-vegetarian thali ($13.95 and $14.95, respectively). Those thalis amount to a sort of one-person grazing, featuring a half-dozen or so small bowls full of big flavors.
On a recent visit, my nephew Alex, whose notions of global cuisine mostly feature tacos and pizza, was taken aback by the first sight of that gleaming mint chutney. "Why is it green?" he asked.
But chicken tikka masala ($11.95 with rice and crimson onion chutney), perhaps the most widely known of all Indian restaurant dishes, won him over with its creamy texture, the nuanced depth of its tomato-based sauce, the juicy firmness of the stewed chicken and its ever-so-faint sweet, spicy aroma.
Lamb saag and lamb vindaloo ($11.95, $10.95) highlighted the range of flavors this cuisine produces, both redolent of Asian spices, cumin, coriander and chilies, but where the former was a mellow stew of spinach and yogurt, the latter had an aggressive vinegar edge that faded into perfectly prepared basmati rice and small, moist globes of potato.
My brother Pete relished bright red pieces of tender tandoori chicken ($12.95 for a whole, $6.95 for a half), but I wished the kitchen hadn't been so sparing with the cayenne — in terms of heat, this chicken seemed, well, chicken.
In fact, my only substantive reservation about Shalimar is a tendency to be somewhat risk-averse, not just in terms of heat, but in the sense that occasionally the spice mixtures seem almost too inhibited, too inclined to deliver gentle nudges, when I would adore a sharp-edged, jubilant brawl of flavors.
I want to walk out drunk from the spices, and that doesn't happen.
(Certainly, there's no faulting the service, which is quietly impeccable, or the atmosphere, enhanced by the quiet pulse of Indian popular music.)
Still, the careful interplay of ginger, garlic and cardamom and the fine texture of the tandoori chicken made for a fine dish — one that would improve any summer picnic basket.
We started our meal with complimentary pappads, crisp, peppery lentil wafers. We shared vegetable samosas, thickly wrapped concoctions filled with peas and potatoes.
Other things worth exploring include seafood (try the fish curry, $10.95), the marvelous list of vegetarian (and vegan) dishes, and desserts like gulab jamun ($2.50), which look like doughnut holes, served in a honey syrup.