The brightest spot in the Brighton Shopping Center is the Kohinoor restaurant with its glowing orange awning under the shining white and yellow letters proclaiming Kohinoor, Indian Cuisine.
Inside, coral-colored tablecloths and white cloth napkins fanned in each wine glass add a touch of elegance. Beaded curtains with tiny brass bells cover the windows and also separate three private dining areas from the main room.
Dining at Kohinoor is a good way to get acquainted with Indian cooking. The traditional spices such as cardamom, fresh coriander, cloves, tumeric and cumin are well represented. Unlike some Indian cooking, however, there are few dishes at the Kohinoor that are spicy hot, a style that could please as well as disappoint.
Ask for a side dish of hot sauce, and let each diner use as much of it as he or she likes. Then it's possible for a group of diners, ordering a variety of dishes, to share and enjoy an Indian feast.
All our food choices were successful despite the politely uncommunicative staff. Only the paneer, a homemade cheese used in two of the vegetable entrees, and the desserts might take some getting used to.
Some of the side dishes are worth noting and add authenticity to the meal. The pappad -- a flat, brittle disk made from lentil flour and lots of black pepper -- was an exception to the nonfiery norm. Cool things off with the yogurt and cucumber dip, raita, or diffuse the hotness with dal, a dish of lentils prepared with onions and spices.
Not to be missed is the tandoori bread. Either white or whole wheat, the dough is slapped on the side of the tandoor oven to cook to a bubbly chewiness. It is so good by itself, or when used to soak up various sauces, that you may have to order more than one.
Another version of the tandoori bread, one that comes stuffed with ground meat seasoned with fresh coriander, makes a delicious appetizer.
From the regular list of appetizers, the deep-fried vegetables or the beef or vegetable stuffed samosas make inexpensive snacks to enjoy with drinks, but could be skipped in deference to the ample main courses.
For religious as well as economic reasons, vegetarian dishes play a big role in Indian cooking. Kohinoor has included a number of vegetarian entrees on its menu, such as the paneer mattar made with the homemade cheese mentioned before. The browned cubes of cheese have a dry consistency similar to farmer's cheese but a subtle, unfamiliar flavor that is partially masked by a mild curry sauce with green peas.
A very tasty roasted eggplant entree, bengan bharta, was delicious when scooped up on hunks of the tandoori bread.
Of course, the tandoor ovens do more than bake bread. The traditional clay vats with their searing heat produced a moist and tender beef sheesh kabab and half-chicken, both colored a vibrant red-orange. The eye-catching color, we were told, is achieved through the use of paprika in the yogurt marinade, but food dyes can also be used, so diners with food-dye allergies should beware.
Many dishes come with complexly seasoned sauces, flecked with fresh coriander leaves. Two good example are the chicken malai, which has an aromatic, curry colored sauce with golden raisins and cashews, and the lamb do piaza, which has a darker, heartier sauce that includes onions and green peppers.
A generous portion of spiced, basmati rice complements these entrees and helps soak up the gravy.
For the biryani dishes, the basmati rice pilaf is part of the entree. The shrimp biryani comes as an oval mound of rice speckled with split shrimps and cashews.
Any one of the four desserts will keep you busy searching for comparable tastes in your food memory bank. For example, there's the gulab jamun, a squishy, honey-colored dried milk dumpling in a light syrup, or the delicately sweet, cardamom-flavored rice pudding that is more like creamy rice soup. The desserts are worth a try if you're adventurous and not expecting something akin to a chocolate fudge brownie.
Indian beer, however, is probably best left untried. The Kingfisher is slightly sweet and flat, and this was the waiter's recommendation over the other Indian beer, the dreadful Golden Eagle. Far better is a soothing, nonalcoholic Indian beverage, lassi, a yogurt drink reminiscent of liquefied lemon yogurt.
The kitchen at Kohinoor is adept at turning out a variety of tasty, authentic Indian dishes at reasonable prices. The primary glitch is the slow, sometimes uncommunicative service, which can be less of a negative when you know in advance that you're in for a leisurely meal where almost everything is good.