BOMBAY GAYLORD -- 8401 GEORGIA AVE., SILVER SPRING. 301-565-2528. Open: for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday noon to 3 p.m.; for dinner Monday through Friday 5 to 9:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 3 to 9:30 p.m. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggest-ed. No smoking. Prices: appetizers $1 to $4.50, entrees $4.50 to $11.95; lunch buffet $6.95 weekdays, $7.95 weekends; Sunday night buffet $8.95. Full dinner with beer, tax and tip $15 to $22 per person.
You wouldn't say it's news that an Indian restaurant opened in Silver Spring late last year. Nor is it significant to anybody more than a few miles away that it serves the usual north Indian dishes at prices in the single digits, or that you can put together a hefty meal with a beer for $15.
Bombay Gaylord is just the ticket for people who are tired of reading about trendy expensive restaurants downtown, who don't care what the hot chefs are cooking, who want to be reassured that ordinary neighborhood restaurants still have a chance.
On a sweltering Wednesday eve-ning, Bombay Gaylord's lone waiter had all the business he could handle, and more. The kitchen was backed up with carryout orders. A row of chairs was fully occupied by people staring into space, waiting for their dinners-to-go. As for the diners at the tables, every one was wearing either sneakers or sandals, and most were in shorts. The repeat customers seemed to far outnumber the first-timers.
At every table somebody ordered the Platter Tandoori. At $11.95, it is the most expensive dish on the menu, but apparently the extra couple of bucks is deemed worth it for the drama of a pile of meats that's surely meant to be shared, or expected to serve as tomorrow's dinner at home. Maybe it's the sizzle that sells a dish like this: It's carried through the room on a hot iron platter with a fitted potholder snug around the long metal handle.
The dining rooms, like those tandoori platters, show an attempt at pizazz. The two rooms are very pink, the walls and tablecloths made to look more so by red cloth napkins. Hammered-metal water pitchers, the tall ones with long spouts and elaborate designs, add a glittery effect. Placed around the rooms, gilded and blindingly shiny, they are all the more theatrical since they're in graduated sizes up to four feet high. Palm trees with plastic bananas and coconuts further set the stage.
The waiters at Bombay Gaylord are either shy or taciturn, but they roll the food to you on carts as fast as the kitchen can turn it out. Those hot metal platters don't lose a moment's sizzle.
This isn't Indian food that the uninitiated need to fear. Almost none of it is fiery. In fact, it's so tame that you could think of the cooking as what you'd experience at the Tastee Diner up the street, if it kept coriander and turmeric on its spice shelf.
Bombay Gaylord's mulligatawny soup is a slightly viscous red-gold chicken broth with bits of rice and chicken, its lemony mild flavor reminiscent of Greek egg-lemon soup. It would no doubt be restorative in winter. Papri chat is an ideal summer appetizer, a kind of diced-potato salad with chickpeas and onions, dressed with yogurt and tamarind and garnished with crunchy strips of fried dough. Keep in mind that it's far too large for one diner.
Samosas, a mere dollar for the vegetable ones, $1.50 for meat, are the bargain of the week. They're big fat triangles of crisp and greaseless pastry filled with diced potatoes or ground beef and mushy peas, aromatic with spices that will remind you of allspice. For the very timid, chicken pakora is a sort of mild Chicken McNuggets, the long strips of white meat soft enough that you hardly need to chew, in a tender puff of chickpea batter. Not much taste but a comforting texture. Onion bhajia is more tough than crisp, a clump of fried stuff with chewy strings of onion inside.
Entrees, too, offer a range of seasonings, including those that could ease newcomers into Indian cooking. The tandoori dishes have a mild and pleasant tang from their bright red yogurt and spice rub, though they are not exactly juicy. The lamb is absolutely lean, the strongest and chewiest of the meats. Nothing refined. Chicken is softer, in texture and taste. Kofta kebab cries out for spaghetti and tomato sauce; these mushy, bready meatballs are no spicier than the Italian version. And while the menu lists several fish and seafood dishes, one sample of tandoori shrimp persuaded me to stick to the meats.
As for curries, the vindaloo is in most restaurants the hottest, but here it is a tomatoey lamb-and-potato stew with a slight tartness and a mere suggestion of spice. If you're looking for more energetic seasoning, rogan josh is the lamb curry to try; its thick yellow sauce is the closest I've come to fire from this kitchen. Other curries get their tingle from onions, tomatoes, bell peppers and lemon more than from hot chilies. Chicken kadai, for instance, comes sizzling on a metal pan with such a thick intensity of vegetables and tomato paste that you might think it's the pasta sauce that's meant for those kofta kebab meatballs. Chickpea and potato curry has a different thick red sauce, this one spiked with sweet-sour tamarind. Others on the long list of vegetable curries tend to be even more simple and straightforward: Saag paneer tastes utterly of spinach, with soft, mild white cubes of cheese buried in it, and dals -- black or yellow -- show little of their tomato or ginger, more of plain lentils.
Bombay Gaylord turns out all the usual Indian breads. The paratha is flaky and grainy, the puri is puffed to its appropriate balloon shape and the chapati is as thin as a napkin. Pappadums are greaseless. Here, the condiments that inevitably accompany an Indian meal are marinated raw carrot slices and a thin coriander chutney that is more pourable than spoonable. The rice is long-grained with a few sprinkles of orange. It's just rice.
For the uninitiated, Bombay Gaylord is a place that allows you to venture cautiously into new flavors. For old India hands, it's an easygoing, reasonably priced everyday restaurant.
Baltimore means more than crab cakes and mussels. It's also the home of the Black Olive, a Greek restaurant that specializes in whole grilled fish. Many restaurants do that, but few bring in such a variety of fish. It's a charming little Fells Point restaurant with blue checked tablecloths, whitewashed walls and a delightfully unconventional wine list (try the Greek viognier). As starters, the greens pie made with house-made phyllo, the "bread pudding" salad and the garlicky green-tinged hummus are tops; too bad the grilled ca-lamari is dry and the taramasalata short on roe and lemon. Choosing an entree is easy: Examine the display of whole fish and pick the most bright-eyed and gleaming. Once it's char-grilled and brought to the table, ask the waiter to leave its crackly skin on when he fillets the fish. The Black Olive also shows off impressive marinated veal chops, rack of lamb, beef filet and skewered fish, but its regulars come for the fish cooked on the bone and drizzled with a simple lemon-oil-herb sauce. -- P.C.R
CAPTION: Casual and inexpensive, Bombay Gaylord is a neighborhood place where the regulars seem to outnumber the newcomers.