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Dining Out: Baluchi’s chain of Indian restaurants comes to Forest Hills

By Carol Brock

BALUCHI’S

113-30 Queens Blvd., Forest Hills

718-520-8600

Firsts always get me a little nervous.

Baluchi’s, a chain of Indian restaurants, has 10 locations in Manhattan. Now there’s one, a first for Queens, in Forest Hills. It seems that Indian food, with its complex spicing, has gone public. And this is to be my first Baluchi’s encounter.

Curries — the chicken and the shrimp — were the first to capture our fancy. Next came the Indian breads which we all adore — the poppadum, poori (the puffy one), and others. Then came offerings from the tandoori oven, India’s distinctive circular barbecue pit, a virtual blast furnace. It introduced us to grilled tandoori chicken and meats, seafood and fish.

Vegetarians were charmed by the variety that was offered with a new combination of ingredients and range of flavors. Baluchi’s is known for its half-price lunch and you’ll see a sandwich sign out front at the corner of 113th Street and Queens Boulevard announcing it. But what is most unexpected, is the decor, Indian in feeling but different from all others. Copper is everywhere — it even covers the tabletops. There are copper water goblets and the handles of the good-looking knives and forks and spoons are copper as well. The cuisine is set before you in round, copper casseroles. Even the wooden bar has been copperized. The floor is “antique” cement, and wooden doors are washed with blue. Two imposing oil paintings stand by waiting to be displayed. Baluchi’s, which opened in August 2000, is adding finishing touches.

By now, you’re probably wondering, as I did, about the name. It has an unexpected Italian ring to it. Actually, there is a region of India called Baluchi (but the cuisine at the Forest hills spot doesn’t come from there).

Crisp, lacy poppadum are offered with three dipping sauces — mango chutney, tamarind and mint/coriander. This was presented to us as we sipped our lassis, the yogurt drink of India that made a hit with our Indian-food first-timer, and a glass of mango juice.

To begin our luncheon, from the tandoori we had shrimp Baluchi’s stuffed with cream cheese, batter-dipped and deep-fried. Here was a great new appetizer that was being ordered and enjoyed by diners at other tables as well. And nearby, samosas was being served. This guest flattened down his pyramid-shaped serving of potato, peas and chick peas, doused it with the accompanying sauce, added a dash from the sauce dish on the table and attacked it blissfully. Our fish tikka — medallions of marinated fish — grilled in the tandoori on a skewer were moist and marvelous.

On to the entrees. The well-named Kerla Boatman crab curry with black peppercorns, a red chili or two, mustard seeds and coconut was coupled with long-grained rice. This was a lovely, new-to-me curry with just the right amount of bite and the pleasure of crab.

We wanted something with lamb. It was to be rogan josh, succulent pieces in a luscious cardamom sauce. Our chicken dish was tikka masala with a tomato and cream sauce. All were attractively served in the copper casseroles with nan and a huge puffed poori. (The family nan, an exclusive with Baluchi’s, is huge — it serves six to eight. What fun!

Doggie baggers are presented with mini containers with metal handles (remove before microwaving) of Chinese takeout fame — perfection for a solo picnic. And if you forget the fork, eat India-style with thumb, index and middle fingers of the right hand.

Dessert is a choice of Indian ice cream, cheese balls in sauce, or rice pudding.

As for takeout, there’s a real deal of a selection — one appetizer and one entree for $12.95. Sounds like another great picnic possibility to me.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Ten Baluchi’s in Manhattan — now one in Forest Hills. Attractive decor with copper and antique cement floor. Nice service. Northern Indian cuisine served in copper casseroles.

CHEF’S CHOICE

Combination Platter (chicken mali kabob, chicken tikka, barrah kabob, shrimp

Baluchi’s, seek kabob, fish tikka)…S11.95

Samosas (potatoes and peas with chic peas)…$4.95

Chicken Tikka Masala …$11.95

Lamb Rogan Josh…$12.95

Baluchi’s Shrimp Curry (prepared in authentic sauce and flavor)…$13.95

Saag Panir (cheese with fresh spinach)…$10.95

Bhartha (eggplant roasted on fire and cooked with peas and onions)…$10.95

Lamb Biryani…$13.95

Cuisine: Northern Indian

Setting: Copper everywhere

Service: Very nice

Hours: L & D 7 days

Reservations: Yes

Dress: Casual

Children: Accommodated

Takeout: Yes

Private parties: To 70

Smoking: None

Noise level: Moderate

Handicap accessible: Yes

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