The Foodie Files

Ben Whelan

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Tucked away in a small downstairs location, India Quality has been a Kenmore Square institution since it opened in October of 1982 when then-chef and current owner Parmjit Singh first began serving his unique brand of authentic, northern Indian cuisine.

Upon descending the stairs into the restaurant, our first impression was that of entering someone’s home, only enhanced by Mr. Singh’s warm greeting and effusive personality. The space itself is not large, and is primarily dominated by a medium sized bar backed by a wall of 45 different beers (bottles only) from 35 countries around the world. The restaurant has only fourteen tables, so on a weekend there is usually a line out the door. On a Wednesday night, however, they are operating at about half capacity, creating just enough atmosphere without being noisy and obtrusive.

After we were seated, Mr. Singh explained his philosophy on food and why his restaurant was unique as compared to other Indian restaurants in the area, similar to a proud parent talking about the accomplishment of a successful child. He informed us that every morning he grinds the spice mixes himself from only fresh ingredients; a surprise to us considering that almost all of the spices he mentioned are usually seen in their dried form. When probed further, he revealed that he has all of his spices shipped directly from India, and typically spends at least one month a year in his home country scouting out new spices and purveyors. Each dish contains a mix of ten to fifteen spices, and while most restaurants use the same spices he does (although dried), the overall flavor of the dish relies on the exact proportions used. These formulas, which he has developed over the last 35 years, are kept a closely guarded secret known only to him and his head chef.

If we had any doubts about his claims, they immediately vanished with the first bite of the Samosas, a crispy pea and potato dumpling that we had ordered as an appetizer. With just the first bite we knew this was no ordinary Samosa. This rendition of the traditional dish was covered in a flaky, perfect pastry shell and burst with flavor in every bite. So varied was the mix of spices that every bite exposed the tastebuds to a slightly different array of flavors. The next dish to grace out table was the Saag Paneer, a velvety spinach dish loaded with cubes of homemade cream cheese and touched with a warm, but not overpowering, heat and a hint of cinnamon.

After all of these vegetable dishes, we were finally ready for some meat, and what better way than to sate our carnivorous appetites than with another of India Quality’s signature dishes, Chicken Tikka Masala, rumored to be the best in the city. The dish did not disappoint, featuring a perfect combination of sweet tomatoes blended with tangy yogurt and moist chunks of marinated Tikka chicken. It was smooth, warm and inviting, truly an example of Indian comfort food if ever there was one. While we had merely tasted the other dishes to save room for the rest of the meal, we threw caution to the wind and greedily devoured our entire serving of this delicious treat, the clean plate being truly the greatest compliment that can be paid to any food. Normally one does not go to an Indian restaurant and think fish, but the Fish Tikka, a perfectly cooked swordfish fillet flavored with lemon and mustard seeds was a pleasant surprise. Follwing the fish, we moved on to the next dish, Tandoori Chicken. Normally dry due to its lengthy cooking time in a traditional clay Tandoori oven, was moist and juicy, in part due to its 24-hour soak in a yogurt spice mixture prior to cooking. This Tandoori Chiacken was truly what all versions of this dish around the city aspire to be.

When it came to dessert, we eschewed the more traditional Indian deserts on the menu for the Rustica, which was irresistibly described as a “richer form of Tiramisu-Layers of sponge cake filled with fantasies of cream and liqueur”. Our questioning at what a Tiramisu was doing on an otherwise completely traditional Indian menu was quickly answered when we were served what looked like a very classic version of the Italian favorite served over a pool of tangy mango pure with drops of rich chocolate sauce. While we wary of this drastic clash of cultures and cooking styles, this innovative Indian twist proved to be a welcome addition as the soft creamy richness of the cake was balanced perfectly by the tart mango.

The prices at India Quality are well within reason for a typical Indian restaurant and in this case were a great value considering how much higher the quality of the food is. Appetizers and breads fall into the $3-$7 range while entrees and meat dishes climb no higher than the low teens, topping out at $16 dollars for a mixed grill of Tandoori delicacies, chicken, lamb and beef. For for a nice spot to grab lunch in the Kenmore square area, India Quality also offers a lunch menu from 11:30am-3pm for no more than $8.

If you plan on coming on a weekend, be sure to make reservations early, for the spectacular food has developed quite a following over the last quarter century and the place tends to fill up pretty quick and boasts a list of regulars who have been making the pilgrimage to this culinary gem for as long as sixteen years. If you like Indian food, you have not tasted the real thing until you make the trip to this Boston landmark.