by Anura Guruge
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I am no stranger to the Shalimar. They have been in Portsmouth for 21 years and I have been going there, always eagerly, for at least 15 years — though, alas and alack, not as often as I would like, since we really don’t get down to Portsmouth that often.
We, however, did go to the newly redecorated, “Best of NH” 2009 to 2013, Shalimar, at 80 Hanover St., Portsmouth yesterday evening — that being Boxing Day.
It was a cold, wet, snowy and dreary December night, and as you opened the door to the Shalimar you were greeted, warmly, by a gently waft of curry in the air. You, knew at once, that you were going to be nice and cozy inside; a temporary oasis away from the Winter.
They have redecorated the Shalimar, with great care and panache, over the Summer. Deanna noticed it at once. I have always liked the layout. It is very airy and the large picture window at the front ensures that feels open. You have privacy in the booths but the way they are laid out makes sure that you still get to see the comings and goings in the rest of the restaurants. The Mughal pillar silhouettes very cleverly painted on the walls definitely makes you feel like you are in an historic Mughal Palace in the Punjab (where the restaurant owner and cook, Mr. Harbhajan Singh comes from). Bravo. Nice touch. They also, for a change, have an impressive and informative Website. To me such touches indicate that they are thinking about the business and want to excel. That they have received the “Best of NH” for five years kind of confirms that.
This was the first time I had been to an Indian restaurant since I started my low-carb diet in January. So, I had to be careful as to what I ordered, plus, Devanee, the other Indian food aficionado in the family, was not with us. So in reality we didn’t order anything like the range and volume of food we had in the past.
I know that most folks in New Hampshire shy away from Indian restaurants because they are not sure about how and what to order. The Shalimar (where the name, befitting the new decorations on the walls, denotes a Mughal garden), to their credit, tries to make it easy for those that are still trying to unlock the mysterious delights of a full repertoire Indian menu — like the one they offer. They have vegetarian and non-vegetarian appetizer (sampler) platters and and combo ‘special dinners’ for 1, 2 or 4. That is good. They also have a lunchtime buffet — where you can sample a lot of different dishes.
We ordered the non-vegetarian appetizer platter and 4 Samosas, two vegetarian (for Deanna and Teischan) and two with minced lamb for me. The Samosas, as I knew they would be, were first class. The minced lamb with a couple of peas were outstanding. The platter, overall, was good and well worth the $10.95. Teischan gobbled up all the chicken in record time.
I ordered my de rigeur Lamb Korma. I can and will eat extremely hot curry but I don’t feel the need to eat as such when I go to a restaurant like the Shalimar. Hot curries are easy to make and I can, with paste that I buy, make a curry, at home, that exfoliates 4 layers of cells from my intestines. When I go to a class joint like the Shalimar I want the subtle, delicate Indian treats that I can’t make at home. Hence the Korma. A Korma, when cooked well, with its spices and nuts, makes you feel like an Mughal emperor. The Shalimar did not disappoint. It was the first time in my life I had eaten a Lamb Korma sans carbs — Biryani and a stuffed, typically an Aloo, Paratha (potato stuffed, fried bread). But, eating it on its own was good. Just the taste of the Korma. I enjoyed it.
I did order an Aloo Paratha for Deanna (who likes them too) and a Saag Paneer — spinach with cubed, cooked cheese. It was good.
I did not have my customary Kulfi — Indian ice cream with almonds. I did, however, given my need for daily yogurt, have a Lasi — a yogurt shake. It was refreshing.
I had a glass, of course, of Pinot Noir and some coffee.
It was a great meal. We were there for about 80 minutes. Despite the lousy weather outside there was a respectable crowd at the Shalimar. Since we were about the last to leave we got a chance to have a long chat with the owner’s middle daughter, Kulbir Kaur, a recent graduate from UNH. She was very nice and told us a lot about their family and business. We were impressed.
Not much that I can say that will bolster the accolades they already have, but I give this Indian restaurant my unstinted praise. I will be going there again, as soon as I can (diet permitting).