Monday, October 29, 2007

A Local Indian Restaurant That Reminds Me Of East London


(Published in print in the United States – February 2006)

Walking along Green Street in the Newham section of East London, a diner literally has the world on a plate from which to choose.
West Ham's soccer games bring an influx of suburban families to Newham on Saturdays, but a stroll along Green Street any other day of the week reveals the sights, sounds and smells of those who make their homes there -- immigrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The best Indian food I ever tasted was from a six-table, nondescript Bengali storefront on Green Street tucked between the Islamabad Halal Butchers and one of the few remaining bangers-and-mash English eateries.
But thanks to Royal Albert's Palace at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City, you don't have to travel to the Indian subcontinent or visit a multicultural corner of East London to sample succulent, authentic Indian fare. This Atlantic City version of Indian food can rightfully take its place on the "global" menu.
The food at Royal Albert's, which opened in May 2005 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony graced by famous Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai, melts enticingly in your mouth. The decor -- a mix or ornate marble statues, a towering replica of India's Taj Mahal situated at the head of a flowing, rectangular water fountain, and a dazzling blue-and-gold color scheme -- delights the eye. This is a restaurant that demands a curious palate, but makes Indian food accessible.
And that's just the way co-proprietor Praveen Vig, a 34-year-old native of India who came to Atlantic City at the age of 18, wants it to be.
"We want to dispel the popular notion that Indian food is something that's only spicy or fried," Vig told me while sipping water at one of Royal Albert's corner tables on a recent Monday afternoon. "In England, Indian food shops are as prevalent as Chinese food shops are in America.
"We are confident that Indian food can make that same kind of impact in the United States. The health benefits of cooking with ginger, garlic and turmeric (which is found in curry powder) are becoming more well known."
Royal Albert's certainly plays to its strengths. One delicious aspect of Indian cooking is its liberal use of lamb. The texture and flavor-retention characteristics of this meat work extremely well with the spices that Indian chefs have at their disposal.
At Royal Albert's, be sure to try the Tawa Boti Kabab from the non-vegetarian Tandoori menu. This entree is made up of cubes of lamb sauteed in onions, bell peppers and tomatoes -- with a touch of the chef's special sauce. Tender and tasty, the lamb combined for a pleasant taste explosion when paired with a glass of Geyser Peak Pinot Grigio.
Also at that Sunday lunch, my wife and 8-year-old twin sons loved the Banjara Chicken -- chicken cubes with ginger garlic cooked with Indian spices. We also shared a filling appetizer of Assorted Pakora -- mixed-vegetable fried fritters containing potato, onion and cauliflower.
A plate of Basmati Rice and two orders of Tandoori Naan Bread complemented the meal perfectly. To finish it off, the four of us shared an incredibly rich Kulfi ($7.95) for dessert. This ice cream is typically found in North Indian villages, and my boys were buzzing about how great it was for the remainder of the afternoon.
One very cool feature of Royal Albert's is how the Tandoori ovens, which cook at temperatures of up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, are on full display for the diners. Set behind a glass partition, the chefs gladly put on a show for any interested onlookers.
Marble statues of Indian elephants and maidens, as well as the massive, detailed replica of the Taj Mahal round out the dining experience. The tones of tasteful Indian music and the gentle, gushing sounds of the water fountain bounce off the meticulously decorated tiles and trims, transporting any diner with a fertile imagination into the heart of an Indian palace. It really is an awesome dining experience.
"We wanted to make it a place where people wanted to come back to," said Vig, who runs Royal Albert's with co-proprietor Albert Jusani. "We could have expanded our capacity to 125 (diners), but we decided to go with 99 in order for us to lay out and shape the restaurant with the aesthetics in mind."
A 25-year-lease is a testament to Vig's commitment to the Atlantic City restaurant landscape.
"I'll be here when my hair turns gray," said Vig, who is active in Galloway Township's local cricket league and will talk about the sport with all comers. "New Jersey is my home now."