High Kulcha

Tandoori cooking, in which marinated meats are grilled in clay pits heated with wood or charcoal, was introduced to the Indian subcontinent by Pakistani border refugees in the late 1940s. Now it rivals curry (in the American imagination, at least) as the representative dish for the nation's cuisine. Akash's presentation is traditional, fragrantly steaming its way from kitchen to table, the bright orange-red of the chicken and shrimp owing to a special vegetable-based powdered food coloring. Comprising shrimp, chicken, and lamb, the "mixed sizzler platter" we ordered was a tasty but less-than-generous sampler of good tandoori cookery.

Curry, that catch-all word that refers to a standardized combination of cumin, coriander, fenugreek, red pepper, and turmeric, is actually an inaccurate British adaption of kari, meaning sauce (not necessarily one particular kind). The key to Indian cuisine is its distinctive variety and use of spices, as well as the method in which they're utilized -- whole, crushed, or ground -- and the order in which they are stirred into the pot. A mixed-vegetable dish listed under the "curry" heading on the menu was a subtly spiced blend of cauliflower, carrots, peas, and potatoes in a familiar "dry" yellow-curry sauce. On previous visits I have tried the juicy brinjal bhaji (an eggplant curry) and pleasing, protein-rich tarka dal (a curry made with stewed lentils). Each has its own family of flavors.

A soothing plate of chicken tikka masala consisted of boneless tandoori-roasted chicken with fresh tomatoes, cream, green pepper, and onions. This relatively uncomplicated sauce was a wonderful foil for the more piquant sags that challenged the palate. The sauce would have tasted even better had we not ladled it over a slightly old-tasting but still fragrant basmati rice streaked with saffron.

Dessert at Akash is a course meant for the stalwart sweet tooth, which I am. Gulab jamun, fried doughnutlike "milk balls" in warm syrup, immediately made my list of all-time favorites. Mango ice cream was ideally cool, rich, and creamy, a positive end to a meal that without question had its mediocrities but also enough authenticity to prevent me from over-relying on the good nature of Indian friends.

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