House of India offers unspectacular but adequate dishes

Since my freshman year, I have heard about the “Indian restaurant in Pittsfield.” Whenever my friends need to pretend that they don’t go to school in a really small town, they refer to the infamous “Indian restaurant in Pittsfield” proving that even in the Berkshires one can find ethnic foods of at least moderate quality. I love Indian food, so after two full years of hearing about the “Indian restaurant in Pittsfield,” I decided it was time to check into it. After all, maybe the restaurant was only a myth, a nonexistent entity, created to inspire hope in the hearts of us gourmands.

Well, the restaurant does exist. In fact, it’s called the House of India, and it’s located right off of Route 7. Upon entering the House of India, one is immediately drawn to the bright pink tablecloths that add a cheerful touch of color to an otherwise plain and sparsely decorated room. The dining experience that followed compared to the decor, a few highlights like the tablecloths, but overall nothing that special.

My dining companions and I started with some appetizers: vegetarian samosas and vegetable pekoras. The samosas were appropriately large and flaky, with good-sized chunks of potato, peas and a healthy amount of spice. On the other hand, the pekoras were doughy and had a distinctive flavor that I can only describe as bad. The larger sized pekoras were undercooked and at the same time cold.

I have to admit I’m a sauce girl. At restaurants I am delighted (or peeved, depending on the situation) by sauces. At House of India, the chutney was made from mango, with a sweet fruity taste: no problems there. However, I found fault with the mint sauce, which was rather bland. It lacked the punch or spiciness needed to counteract the sweet chutney. This was a disappointment for me as mint sauce is usually my favorite condiment for Indian food.

I’m not claiming to be an expert on Indian food, but I do know enough to recognize when something does not taste good or when something seems a little off-kilter. And I know waiting forty minutes (I timed it.) for Indian food in a not very busy restaurant is a little, shall I say, off-kilter.

Also slightly off-kilter was our good-hearted waitress. When she brought out our main dishes and tried to pass them out, she couldn’t remember the names of what we had ordered. Instead of referring to the food by the Indian names that appeared on the menu, she would lift up a plate and say, “This one is the. . . the one with spinach and cheese. No, give that back, it’s the one with spinach and chicken.” It was disturbing that she could not identify the dishes. Waitresses and waiters should at least be competent enough to know what they are serving.

The main dishes we ordered were, for the most part, pretty good. The palak panir was tasty with its minced spinach and chunks of homemade cheese, and it came to the table steaming hot. The aloo palak, potatoes and spinach cooked with cream, onions, tomatoes and spices, was also delicious. It had a little bit more kick than the palak panir. I noticed that the potatoes in the aloo palak were perfectly cooked. I got no more than a bite or two of the chicken saag with minced spinach, but what I did get was very good.

The mattar panir and the chicken curry were not quite so good. When we first got the menus, I took note of a statement printed on the front: “We serve it the way you like it: Very mild, mild, medium, hot and very hot.” However, our first waiter did not ask us about our spiciness preference until someone at our table brought it up. I wish she hadn’t. Everyone at the table except for me ordered their food with a medium amount of spice. As a lover of spicy food who wanted to show off a bit, I ordered mine hot. This was a big mistake. For some reason, the difference between medium and hot turned out to be as big as Lake Michigan. My dish, the mattar panir was so hot that I could hardly eat it. Made of peas and homemade cheese, it lacked the spicy brown gravy I had expected and had enjoyed with mattar panir at other restaurants. Instead, it had a fire-engine red sauce. As soon as it approached the table, I felt my heart beat faster. “No, that’s not my dish, please don’t let that be my dish,” I thought, but it was, and it was painful. I ended up having to pay $1.95 for raita, a yogurt sauce made with onions, tomatoes, potatoes and herbs, in order to cool my burning palate. The most effective technique I could think of to deal with the spiciness of the mattar panir was to eat it in small quantities with larger quantities of my friend’s spinach dishes. Needless to say, the spiciness was excessive.

The chicken curry had a delicious sauce with a nice texture, but my friend kept turning to me and asking, “Taste this. Is this chicken or fish?” to which I would reply, “It’s chicken. It’s chicken.” There should not be this kind of doubt about a dish, so I definitely question the quality of the chicken curry.

For desert, I ordered galub jamin, cream balls dipped in syrup and rose water that tasted kind of like a fried donut saturated with sugar. Served steaming hot, the desert was very good. Also tasty was the lassi, a drink made of yogurt, honey, sugar and rose water. It had the sour taste of yogurt but was perfectly complemented by the sweetness of the honey.

The House of India menu features a fairly wide range of appetizers and main dishes including authentic curries and kebabs. It is also quite vegetarian and wallet friendly. Dinner prices for main dishes start as low as a moderate $7.95.

Although the food was not stellar, it was for the most part fairly good, as long as one refrains from ordering anything labeled hot. It is hard to be overly critical about the quality of House of India because Indian food is an anomole in the Berkshires. However, if you need a fix of something spicy and a little exotic House of India will definitely suffice.

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