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Monday, Apr 01, 2002

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Tantalising Punjabi spread

"THEY MAKE the tastiest North Indian food I have tasted," Lakshmi Rajeev gushed on the phone. That was our first conversation, but such conviction was reason enough for me to go looking for the Patiala Restaurant, on the Second Avenue of Besant Nagar.

The restaurant tucked away on the first floor of a row of shops, is not easy to locate. After two trips up and down and three or four enquiries later, we spotted it. But doubts arose while climbing the grimy staircase.

A small poorly lit place with barely five tables squeezed together didn't inspire much confidence. A TV playing a Sunny Deol movie was the only ornamental item in the room. Though it was a Sunday there weren't many customers beating down the doors either.

The menu was a single sheet affair that listed the usual dhaba fare, tandoori kebabs, curries, rotis, biriyanis and one or two sweets. The prices appeared rather steep for the place. Having made the trip we decided to take the plunge. All our doubts, questions and ambivalence disappeared as soon as the aroma of the food reached our nostrils. What was hinted became a reality with tasting.

The difficulty in locating the place, staircase, decor, price, everything became irrelevant. The aromatic Pudina chicken (Rs.60) among the curries was very good. A scoop of the gravy in the soft folds of an onion kulcha (Rs.12) and one understood why Lakshmi raved.

A robust makki di roti (Rs.12) and a filling aloo paratha (Rs.15) held up the bread end of the menu. Kadai paneer (Rs.52) was the typical dhaba style onion based red gravy. May be a bit on the spicy side, but definitely yummy. It is often the simple, basic dishes that say the most. Dal tadka (Rs.35) was excellent. Egg biriyani (Rs.55) was chosen as the Punjabi repertoire is never complete without a biriyani. Despite its violent colour, it held good.

The only items that didn't rise above average were the kebabs, Chicken Afghani (Rs.80) and Garlic kebab (Rs.70). None of the sweets were available that night.

The Patiala experience was special as it was an unexpected discovery.

MARIEN MATHEW

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