Peeking in the windows of the short-lived BB’s on Pearl as it underwent renovation, I saw things. Suspicious things. Creepy things. Like someone sleeping slack-mouthed on a banquette. And a signed black-&-white photograph of some jaunty mustachioed buck in a toque. And a banner promising fine wine. Things, in short, I was inclined to associate less with the Indian eatery Platt Park sorely needed—presumably (not necessarily, of course, but more likely) humble & low-key—and more with, say, the great expectations of a once-promising young chef turned bitterly determined schizo, soon to be haunting the ruins of his failure like the Denver dining scene’s own Miss Havisham.
But now for the Dickensian twist: turns out I might be the naysaying schizo! A, the autographed glossy I swear I saw & interpreted as a sign of delusional grandeur is now, I swear equally, nowhere in obvious sight. B, the promise of fine wine I scoffed at is being fulfilled: the fact that, according to our server, the proprietors of India’s Pearl also own a chain of liquor stores shows not only in the breadth of the 7-page list—it runs the geographical and varietal gamut—but in the converse narrowness of its low-to-mid-price range.
C, as for passing out on the premises—there but for the grace of God. This is some hearty, heady stuff indeed. Like the wine list, the menu is long & laden with not only the Punjabi standards but also potential surprises like syal machchi (fish in a caramelized onion sauce), tandoori pheasant & lobster, & an apparently Pakistani intrigue called illachi beef pasanda—tandoori beef in cardamom-papaya sauce. Lassi gussies up in the form of rooh afza—milk with rose syrup—& milk badam with almonds, cardamom & saffron.
These days, many a high-end Indian restaurant prides itself on cooking everything to order rather than batch cooking. Yet depending on the circumstances, both methods have their pros as well as their cons. While it’s true that spicing can be more precise in the former, it can also have less depth than in the latter. I don’t doubt the chef at India’s Pearl—who, our server noted, was recruited from Chicago—is making his sauces in quantity. But given their quality—which we experienced via what most Americans would consider the basics, hence what I tend to treat as litmus tests—I’ve got no beef with that.
The naan we started with was plenty airy, not at all the wet rag that sometimes scrubs your gut with a bucketful of ghee, & yielded garlic galore.
Papri chaat proved exceptional: fresher & more carefully considered than most versions, festooned with green chickpeas, potato cubes, cilantro, sev (those fried noodles on top) & fried wheaten wafers that stayed crunchy even as they got all mixed up with not only yogurt & tamarind chutney but a strong brown curry.
Baigan bharta, the classic eggplant curry, often has a love apple–derived veneer of sweetness; this one was, I think, devoid of tomatoes, greener both to the eye & on the palate than any I’ve had.
Apparently my camera time-traveled to a red-sauce parlor circa 1973 to capture Mamma Giuseppe’s meatballs in marinara. Where we were, this was a lamb vindaloo as dark as the eggplant was green. The kitchen kept the spicing to a dull roar, though; I suggest you fire breathers specify your desire to weep copious drops of blood.
Whole peppercorns & caraway seeds speckled the rice, perfectly nice.
Finally, to return to the fine wine: we opted for a $21 Grover Vineyard cab-shiraz blend from the subcontinent itself—not the most structured jug of grape juice I’ve ever gulped from (the La Reserve, which we tried at NYC’s Chola & which is also available here, is better), but no less a pleasure to discover for discovery’s sake.
In sum, my own expectations for the success of India’s Pearl have, with a single meal, increased considerably.