DINING OUT:

When I heard that my Uncle Bill was going to India for a month on business, I admit I almost tried to stow myself away in his suitcase. All I could think about was the amazing opportunity he had to eat his way through all the different types of Indian cooking. Fortunately, I found superb Indian home-style cooking at Flavor of India right here in Burbank.

With more than a billion people and 150 languages in one country, India has some of the most diverse food in the world. This cuisine can be divided into three general areas. In the north, you have heavy, rich foods, while the hot south makes for an ideal vegetarian-inspired cooking where rice is served at every meal.

In between, you have dry inland where lentils are a main source of protein, and a coastal section where fish entrees dominate. Spices and heavily infused flavors add to the richness of all Indian cooking. The often-associated curry refers to any Indian dish that employs spices and gravy.

What you will not find on most Indian menus is beef. Cows are considered sacred in the Hindu religion. Meat, especially chicken and lamb, are cooked in a tandoor or clay oven, fired to a high heat with wood or coals. This process not only infuses meat with sweet and smoky flavors, it also allows the fat to burn off, making for a lean, healthy protein.

The atmosphere at Flavor of India is refined elegance. From the moment you step inside, you feel as if you have walked into the best restaurant in India. Indian music plays in the background. The booths and chairs are covered in a rich red and gold fabric. Linens and fine china add a sense of sophistication.

The menu definitely offers something for every palate. There are more than a dozen appetizers alone. On my first visit with a group of friends, we started with a plate of samosas, a popular vegetarian turnover in India. We also loved the uttapam, a semolina griddlecake topped with fresh tomatoes, green chili, onions and cilantro.

One of my favorite Indian staples is rotis, unleavened flatbread baked in a clay oven. We ordered the tandoori rotis, whole wheat flatbread similar to pita bread but thicker and cooked in a tandoor. It had a light smoky flavor that just melted in our mouths.

Even if you would never consider becoming a vegetarian, the vegetarian entrees at Flavor of India should at least be considered as a side entree. Each entree is rich with flavors and packed full of perfectly cooked vegetables. I always love the aloo matter, potatoes and green peas cooked with tomatoes, ginger and herbs. It has a little kick to it, but nothing that overpowers the delicious blend of vegetables.

All of the tandoori chicken and lamb dishes are delicious. The simple tandoori chicken is marinated overnight in yogurt, then cooked in the high-heat clay oven. A wonderful surprise was how delicious and tender the tandoori shrimp tasted. The marinade is mild to let the smoky flavors of the tandoor dominate.

The curry dishes were equally delicious. The lamb was tender and swimming in the rich tomato, onion, ginger and spice curry. Some interesting entrees on the menu were the chicken, lamb or vegetarian frankie. Each mix of meat or vegetables and spices was wrapped in a roti and served with delicious chutney. It was almost an Indian version of a burrito. I liked it for lunch, but I think I would stay with the classical Indian dishes for dinner.

Flavor of India offers some excellent lunch specials, but I found the weekday lunch buffet perfect for anyone still a little unsure of Indian cuisine and the best value for the price at only $10 for all you can eat. There are about a dozen choices in the buffet. I loved the vegetarian pakora, fritters filled with spinach, cauliflower and potatoes deep fried to a golden brown. The tandoori chicken was just as delicious as the dinner entree, as was the aloo matter. The rice pudding was a perfect ending for our lunch.

With the elegant atmosphere, attentive service and delicious cuisine, Flavor of India proves you do not need a passport to find perfect international cuisine.


 CHRISTINE PUTNAM can be contacted at www.christineputnam.com.

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