As the American palate diversifies and previously unpronounceable ethnic specialties like baba ganouj and pho become household names, it's inevitable that our utilitarian mindset would rub off on these imported foodstuffs. From gas station sushi to MRE Indian curries, the bastardization and commoditization of these centuries-old cuisines has reached its nadir. Even hummus, now sealed into portable, individually packed servings, can be whipped out and squirted from a tube the exact instant you stumble across warm pita. Take that, messy dipping and inefficient tubs. This is the future.
But for those tired of hurried hummus and carriageable curries, Boise has a handful of restaurants promising to satiate your ethnic urge with abundant piles of warm, messy home-cooked food. Places where you can throw down those individually wrapped forks and let your fingers get covered in garlic and warm oil as you scoop up handfuls of creamy curry with torn chunks of doughy bread. India Place, Eagle's newest Indian joint, is one of those spots.
Opened in May by the original owner of State Street's Madhuban Indian Cuisine, India Place is a pretty standard, westernized strip mall joint. The walls are a mustardy, ghee yellow with mauve trim and painted ceiling pipes. A greasy diner-esque open kitchen, surrounded perplexingly by rows of horizontal blinds, hums from the corner of the space. A row of sturdy leather booths line the restaurant's windowed perimeter, offering views of the parking lot or the strip mall's concrete thoroughfare. But lest you forget where you are, three large poster prints—a tiger, a peacock and the Taj Mahal—drill the cliche home faster than a naked David apron on a sous chef at the Olive Garden.
The menu, also, offers lots of interesting choices, but few surprises. The exotic appetizers list boasts a basic selection of pakoras (veggies, cheese or meat battered with chickpea flour and fried) with a vegetable samosa and aloo tikki (potato and pea patty) thrown in for good measure. Ranging from $1.95 to $4.95 per app—with assorted plates going for $5.95 to $6.95—this menu is a great way to get your fill on the cheap. My dinner date and I could only put away a third of the assorted vegetarian pakora plate ($5.95) after healthy double dunks into the accompanying garlicky mint chutney and molasses-sweet tamarind sauce.
The main course menu is much more extensive, divided into columns featuring chicken, lamb, seafood and vegetarian specialties. Whether you're keen on curries, kormas, masalas or saags, India Place makes it simple to select your ideal meat and heat (mild, medium, hot and extra hot). Our server let us in on the spice-gauging secret: If you enjoy the bite in the beet-red onion chutney served with papadums when you initially sit down, then have the kitchen twist your dish's heat dial to medium.
In addition to a selection of mughlai and biryani dishes, India Place has a pretty impressive array of clay-oven baked naan. The doughy flat bread ranges from $2.95 to $4.99 and comes in two large pieces with an assortment of fillings like butter, garlic, coconut, cheese or lamb. We ordered the coconut naan ($3.25) and found it to be the perfect fork-snubbing shuttle to transport goopy, spinachy piles of palak paneer ($9.95) into our mouths. Though the naan was slightly less necessary for the malia kofta ($9.95)—fried balls of cauliflower, cheese, potatoes and veggies bobbing in a super rich coconut curry—it was an excellent mop for the coagulating pools of oily orange sauce that dotted our plates.
If asked to attribute an overarching theme to our meal at India Place, it would be abundance. Nothing was individually packaged or single portioned. And absolutely nothing was portable, easy to eat or fat-free. As my dinner date and I squeezed out of the booth with enough leftover food for two large lunches and half an unfinished bottle of 2007 Cyprus Vineyards cabernet ($9.99 a bottle), we quickened our step, our warm beds beckoning us to fall sleepily into swollen-belly food comas.
—Tara Morgan is sari, but she'll have naan of the easy-squeeze hummus.