The bathroom, done in the same blue and orange and covered with small round mirrors on two walls, looks like funhouse meets New York Mets clubhouse—not necessarily a home run here in Phillies territory.
No Hindu deities gaze down from the dining room walls and no slinky sitars jam elaborately from hidden speakers. But when you walk through the door, your nose tells you you’re in an Indian restaurant.
From chef/owner Rakesh Ramola’s open kitchen, which takes up nearly half the restaurant, waft aromas of cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, mustard, mace, cumin, and coriander. Adding atmosphere to the Spice Route mélange is the tangy fragrance of a charcoal grill, from which Ramola brings forth juicy chili-and-ginger-rubbed lamb chops; tender cubes of chicken for the rich, raisin- and pineapple-studded cashew korma; and Indeblue’s seven different white and whole-wheat Indian breads brushed with ghee (clarified butter).
What the nose infers, the tastebuds confirm: The highs at Indeblue (the name refers to the blue walls and to India) are quite high. Shrimp moilee is among the menu’s best dishes—tender shrimp simmered in a seductive South Indian coconut-milk curry freckled with black mustard seeds. Dal makhani, tiny black lentils simmered overnight until tender and creamy, gained extra luxury from stirred-in ghee.
Dal makhani is the house specialty, a dish the Mumbai-born Ramola has perfected over years spent cooking in India, London, Kuwait, Cyprus, and the United States. His wife, Heather, is from Pennsylvania. The couple returned to the States from London in 2000, and Ramola joined Tiffin Store—Philly’s acclaimed eat-in and take-out operation—in 2007, working his way up to executive chef. The couple reside in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, but in Collingswood Ramola saw opportunity. “There was nothing like Indeblue anywhere in the neighborhood,” he says. “Our presence fills an important niche.”
He’s right. Nowhere else nearby can vegetarians enjoy dishes such as the excellent kaju paneer matter, cubes of soft, mild, house-made paneer cheese, cashews, and peas in a complex tomato-onion cardamom sauce barely blushed with cream; hara bhara, a sort of sweet-and-savory three-layer Indian Napolean (paneer with cashews and raisins; ground peas, carrots, and spinach; and spiced potato); or chana masala, tender chickpeas in a sweet and tart pomegranate sauce with onion and tomato.
I did miss the pop of fresh pomegranate seeds, a traditional ingredient, in the chana masala, and the honeyed yogurt sauce served with the hara bhara was too sweet. House “wings” brought chicken drumsticks in puffy, gaudy red breadings that became soggy when dipped in the accompanying sweet and tangy sauce. Chicken chatpate, zestily marinated in ginger, garlic, yogurt, turmeric, and lime, unfortunately arrived overcooked.
Requests to have orders cooked “spicy” were repeatedly met with demure doses of chili. Lamb vindaloo was disappointingly shy on heat and spice complexity, and an unpleasantly sweet tomato sauce marred the chicken makhani.
Confusion by our well-meaning but unsteady server brought lamb instead of chicken jahlfrazie—not that it mattered. “Jahlfrazie should be very complex,” Ramola later explained. “Sweet, sour, and spicy.” The tomato-onion curry laced with cinnamon and black pepper lacked these qualities; it was rather blunt, and the lamb did not taste sparklingly fresh.
Dessert can make you forgive the infractions on the savory side of the menu. Cardamom pods with raisins and salted pistachios inserted spicy intrigue and crunch into a not-too-sweet carrot pudding. Even more unusual and indulgent was badshahi falooda, a rosewater milkshake poured over translucent vermicelli and aromatic black basil seeds.
But the genre-bending winner was “spaghetti and meatballs,” a riff on the Indian classic gulab jamun, which are warm doughnut holes soaked in cardamom and rosewater syrup. Here, the “meatballs” were served with vanilla ice cream “spaghetti” pressed through a potato ricer. The waiter, seeing our delighted expressions as he riced the ice cream tableside, laughed, saying, “Adults seem to like it more than kids.”Click here to leave a comment