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Dining

Do not pass Goa

The decor at India’s Grill is nothing to brag about, but the food is extraordinary

Image
Tandoori chicken.
Photo: Beverly Poppe

India’s Grill is a dreary-looking restaurant in a dreary part of town—in the Target shopping center at the corner of Decatur and Meadows Lane. Why then, is my mouth watering whenever I think back to what I ate there?

It’s probably because the chef, Freddy Fernandez, is from Goa, a once-Portuguese enclave on the west coast of India, which is known for one of the world’s most fiery cuisines. Freddy will make it medium or hot—no one bothered to ask if we wanted it mild. I can’t remember better Indian food around here, especially at such a low price point.

Walking in cold, you might be tempted not to stay, until you lay eyes on the 18-course lunch buffet, which often has goat curry and the occasional vindaloo, the spicy meat-and-potato casserole that is Goa’s best-known contribution to the food world.

But it’s the à la carte menu served at dinner that you’ll really want to come for, when a dish like keema naan, minced meat-stuffed flatbread cooked in the tandoor, or clay oven, is $2, and channa bhatura, stewed garbanzo beans with two pieces of puffy fried bread, is a ridiculously low $4. If you ordered these dishes on the Strip, you’d pay more than double this price. I guess rent figures into this equation, somehow.

The Details

Restaurant Guide
India’s Grill
222 S. Decatur Blvd. 880-8893.
Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. daily; dinner 5-9 p.m. daily.
Suggested dishes: keema naan, $2; channa bhatura, $4; India’s Tandoori Grill, $14.95; fish curry, $14.95.

Once you get into the dining room, the ambiance is basic, but not horrifying. There are the predictable velvet paintings and a few tired-looking booths. And the service, done by a sweet lady from the Philippines, is friendly. This was, she told us, a Filipino restaurant before becoming an Indian one. The new management held her over. Okay.

After ordering, you’ll be served a plateful of crisp pappadum, lentil flour crisps eaten with a pair of chutneys, mint and tamarind, all complimentary. We started dinner with a terrific meat platter called India’s Tandoori Grill, which, at $14.95, is the priciest thing on the menu here.

Happily, it’s a feast unto itself. It’s a sizzling platter overflowing with tandoori chicken and boti kabab, broiled lamb. There is also seekh kabab—cylinders of spiced, ground meat—and chicken tikka—red, spice rubbed hunks of white-meat chicken—and a tandoori shrimp. Underneath the meats, slices of onion and green pepper are blackening to a crisp, perfect for rolling up into slivers of naan bread, piping hot from the tandoori oven.

One of the house specialties is fish curry, made with catfish. As soon as I learned the chef was Goan, I approached the kitchen counter, which is open to the dining room, and asked him if he could make us a proper Goan fish curry. “You been Goa?” he asked me.

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Goa is the meeting ground between north and south India, where the cuisines differ greatly. One of the things Goans use in their everyday cooking that north Indians do not is coconut milk. (Ninety percent of the Indian chefs in this country are north Indian, and as a result, you don’t get this type of dish easily.) The chef was happy to comply.

His fish curry was a triumph, and it married blissfully with jeera, or cumin-scented rice, sold here for the princely sum of $2.50. We also tried a dish you won’t often see in local Indian restaurants, Gobi Manchurian. In spite of its not being as the menu describes (“an Indo-Chinese favorite—battered and deep-fried cauliflower florets”), we all loved it. It’s really just sautéed cauliflower in onion gravy, not at all Chinese. It is, however, all great.

Tandoori shrimp.

Further, the menu here is stocked with unusual, tasty little gems. Keema mattar is made with minced lamb and fresh peas, and it’s delicious on rice or scooped up into naan. Papri chat is an appetizer, really a Bombay (Mumbai, these days) street dish typically eaten out of a paper cone, consisting of potato pieces, flour crisps, garbanzo beans and lots of spice and chutney, a messy, exotic treat.

India’s Grill does thalis, too, lunch or dinner trays stocked with around a dozen dishes, either veg or non-veg. You might also try one of the homemade sweets, such as the rice pudding called kheer, or a nice, homemade mango ice cream.

Before I left, I complimented the chef, and asked him if he could make me an all-Goan dinner if I gave him a little notice. “Yes,” he said, proceeding to rattle off a few dishes he plans to cook. Freddy, if you are reading this, I’ll be back soon.

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