Indian food is my absolute favorite of all the world’s cuisines. I lived on South Indian vegetarian buffets and splurged on Mughal feasts as a college student in New York City, and to this day will stop at taxicab takeout spots in Manhattan for Styrofoam containers of fiercely authentic stews. We served curry at my wedding 15 years ago, and I consumed so much dhal on a monthlong trip to India that my husband feared I would turn into a lentil. I say all this by way of explaining why I am so thrilled about Coconut Grove’s new Bombay Darbar, which sprang from the ashes of the beloved Anokha (and the subsequent fondue spot and pizza place) in a chickpea-size space on Commodore Plaza.
The menu is intentionally limited and arranged by protein. As the name suggests, the food is centered mostly on the northern half of the country but includes fiery Goan specialties and henna-red vindaloo. A knowledgeable, welcoming and sincere staff makes ordering easy for novices.
Ambience: The 20-something-seat dining room falls somewhere between red-velvet regal and Slum Dog casual, with white table linens, fresh roses and vinyl-coated menus. There’s gentle, tinkling music, authentic if slightly wooze-inducing incense and, for better weather, a petite patio.
- A complimentary stack of crisp pappadom with thimbles of thick-cut onion chutney and a green-as-fresh-cut-grass coriander version for dipping
- A side order of mixed chutneys yielding store-bought (but no less delicious) sour mango pickle and sweet mango chutney
- Classic samosas — hot, golden pyramids filled with buttery potato and peas or light bites of crab
- Tender and juicy chicken wings cooked in the tandoor oven until they’re the color of gingerbread
- Transporting and finely seasoned saag chicken, a dark and earthy spiced stew of tender, boneless meat
- Deliciously nutty and satisfying (albeit somewhat clunky) vegetable pakora — deep-fried pieces of button mushroom, snap pea and sliced onion with a tangy tamarind dipping sauce
- Rich and complex cashew-based Malai shrimp curry
- Meaty, but utterly enchanting, pan seared mahi with outrageously nutty coconut milk and spicy sauce as thick as peanut butter
- Notably unslimy, remarkably filling and generously portioned okra, aloo gobi (cauliflower and potatoes) and a thick mixed vegetable korma
- “Could-not-be-better” yellow lentil dhal with the smoky tinge of cumin and the warm infusion of curry leaves
- Warm and fragrant basmati-based biryanis
- A small, but serviceable wine list
- Fresh-whirred mango lassi
- Satisfying, not-too-sweet cardamom-tinged gajar halwa, a pudding of shredded carrot dotted with golden raisins and tender cashews
- Creamy pistachio kulfi, the Indian answer to Italian semi-freddo