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The selection might confound, but India K'Raja's informed staff will guide you.

More Than Curry

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It is perhaps a truism to observe that ethnic restaurants draw a more diverse crowd than others, but I was struck by this when we ate at India K'Raja the other night — a mix of ages and many ethnic backgrounds brought together by interesting food and an adventurous spirit.

India K'Raja, now 6 years old, is comfortable and interestingly appointed, perhaps somewhat on the fun side of kitsch or the downside of Empire, whichever you prefer, and without tiresome tape loops of anonymous ethnic music.

But, more importantly, the service is professionally attentive and, in our case, very informed.

I can't speak to "authenticity," having never been to India, but there are often regional South Indian specialties.

India K'Raja divides the appetizers into vegetarian ($2.50 - $3.50) and nonvegetarian ($3.95 - $4.95). If you want to taste several appetizers, sampler plates ($7.95 and $11.95) are the way to go (and Indian meals lend themselves to sharing). We enjoyed the range of textures and tastes of the vegetarian sampler, ordering also the condiment sampler ($6.95), which gives seven more options and is a great boon when there are several at the table. I consider raita, the cooling yogurt dip, as essential to Indian food as some think of ketchup for fries. Salty achaar is a taste worth acquiring, and sweet mango and tamarind chutneys go in a very different direction. These accompaniments are also available separately ($1.50 each).

Bread is not an afterthought in Indian meals, and K'Raja offers 10 choices ($1.75- $2.95) to confound us. The subtleties that determine which bread traditionally goes with what are unknown to me, but it is fun to taste-test.

Entrees ($8.95 - $14.95) are divided into five extensive groups — rice (biryani), chicken, lamb and beef, seafood and vegetarian. Meat or vegetables are cooked with the rice in the biryani dishes; in the others, rice is served separately. Vendaloo, korma, masala and the more-English-than-Indian "curry" are mainstays here as in most Indian eateries. K'Raja offers a sauce called pasanda which is less usual. We had chicken pasanda and the sweetish flavors of mango, almonds, raisins combine into an intriguing sauce, also offered as a daily special with lamb.

The more assertive lamb rogan josh was a lively counterpoint to the pasanda. If you are sharing, it is probably wise to start with milder dishes and work up to the spicier or more assertive, otherwise the palate doesn't distinguish the flavors as well.

Indian desserts are usually too sweet for me, but we shared ras malai, cool paneer cheese with sweetened milk — light and just sweet enough to satisfy.

For most of us, an Indian meal is a once-in-awhile occasion. I almost always remind myself afterwards that I should do it more often. And I'll definitely go back to India K'Raja soon.

India K'Raja Restaurant ($)
9051-5 W. Broad St.
Open Sunday - Saturday
Lunch 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.
965-6345
www.indiakraja.com

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