Domestic gourmands

Naveed Islam & Tasmia Rahman

R: If you find yourself stranded on Wisconsin Avenue with an empty stomach and it’s not a Monday, look for a ridiculously large red awning that spells out “India Darbar” and walk in. NI: Despite offering authentic cuisine from the Indian Subcontinent at a reasonable price, India Darbar does not get nearly as much press as its Northland Avenue cousin Sai Ram. A quick search of the word “Darbar” on the Lawrentian‘s website will yield zero results whereas Sai Ram has either been featured or mentioned in seven different articles, half as many times as any combination of the words “Taste,” “of” and “Thai” has appeared in this publication.

TR: I’ll admit that Darbar isn’t the first name that pops into my head when I think of curry-based dining options in the Fox Valley, but this place is worth a try even if you swear by Sai Ram’s Chicken Tikka Masala.

NI: The decor is kept modest and simple with white walls, plain tiled floors and tables and chairs littering an open space. There are no booths to slide into, no corners to keep your conversations private and no dim lighting to set the mood.

TR: Well, to be fair, we went for lunch.

NI: Yes, but at Sai Ram you’d be hard pressed to tell the time of day without finding a window and even then you’d be surprised at how little light there is given that there are so many windows.

TR: The paintings hanging on the walls at Darbar are beautiful and ornate themselves but not as large or colorful as the ones along Sai Ram’s walls. There are no sarees to drape the ceilings either, one of the many things I liked about Sai Ram when I first visited. They do have a television in the corner that broadcasts Indian channels via satellite where Shahrukh Khan kept popping up in one dance number after another.

NI: You can’t spell India without “Shahrukh” – but I digress. Darbar makes no bones about it: You’re here to eat. At the buffet line there’s even an Indian flag hanging next to an American one. Yep, it’s that simple.

TR: Thankfully, we found the food here to be very good with a wide selection of dishes at the buffet line. They had a healthy number of vegetarian items but left enough to satisfy meat lovers as well. I don’t remember the last time I saw fish in an Indian buffet line either.

NI: The fish pakoras, pieces of deep fried fish marinated in yogurt, lemon juice and chickpea batter were soft, tangy and delicious. The vegetable pakoras were no slouch in the taste department either.

TR: I had a helping of their vegetable fried rice, cooked with peas and carrots to a bright yellow, with their mutter paneer. The paneer was a bit tougher to chew and the curry wasn’t as thick as I normally like but otherwise it was quite good. I slid down to the corner where they had a nice variety of relish and dressings. I poured raita, a mix of lightly chilled yogurt and chopped vegetables, onto everything.

NI: I had raita too and I tried their mirchi achar, made with hot chili peppers and seeds soaked in oil. It was appropriately tangy but not as spicy as I had hoped. I also had some of their cabbage masala and daal tarka, which were both very good I’m sure, but at that point my pakoras and rice had soaked up the eclectic mix of juices that had been stewing on my plate.

TR: After we went back for seconds, we had some of their dessert. The gulab jamuns were deliciously juicy and sweet but the mango ice cream easily trumped anything that made its way into my mouth that afternoon

NI: I would have to agree. I enjoy Sai Ram’s soft serve mango ice cream but this had more flavor.

TR: It’s impossible not to compare India Darbar to Sai Ram when you’re trolling the restaurants of Appleton for Indian food.

NI: Sai Ram offers a fusion of North and South Indian cuisine but their dishes are mostly North Indian while Darbar serves North Indian delicacies almost exclusively. Their lunch buffets fall into a similar price range and they are both closed on Mondays. It is hard to choose between the two but they are both great choices for an afternoon out with friends.
TR: Agreed. If you are in the mood for some Indian food, dear reader, and have grown tired of the popular choice in town, try India Darbar. It may surprise you.