The Curry Corridor got a whole lot spicier in the past year with Bombay CafÃ©, Masala-Wok and India Kitchen opening their aromatic rooms to diners on South Orange Blossom Trail. Now India 4U, the sector's concisely named latest addition, is solidifying the strip's reputation as the premier destination for all things desi. The space, just off the Trail near the Florida Mall, once housed HuHot, a chain specializing in do-it-yourself faux-Mongolian barbecue. Much of HuHot's interior ' the fiery colors and blue disc lights resembling vinyl 45s flying overhead ' has been left intact. Apart from some decorative wall art and an endless string of Bollywood dance videos playing on ceiling-mounted monitors, not much has changed. The large circular flat-top grill has been replaced by a tandoor oven, but for the most part the Mongol-to-Moghul transition is virtually unnoticeable.
After India 4U's forgettable lunch buffet ($7.99) ' the tired, WASP-friendly tandoori chicken, curries and mealy samosas that we've seen a thousand times before ' expectations weren't exactly raised high for dinner, so we were more than a little surprised to see Mughlai, South Indian and even Hakka (Indo-Chinese) items listed on the dinner menu. Of the latter, two starters were laid before us: gobi Manchurian ($7), cauliflower florets fabulously frittered in a thick (not gloopy) sauce heady with ginger; and chili paneer ($7), atomic strips of Indian curd cheese sautÃ©ed in a fiery mix of crisp red peppers, onions, celery, chili peppers and even more ginger.
A perspicacious order of salty yogurt lassi ($3) helped quell the burn while coating the innards for more gut-scorching dishes to come. When we responded 'spicyâ?� to the query of how we wanted our goat vindaloo ($15) prepared, our waiter laughed maniacally, arousing a deer-in-headlights look from my dewy-domed dining comrade. When the dish arrived, lamb replaced the goat, a mistake we didn't realize until after biting into the lean cubes of meat. Ultimately, the vinegar-based sauce, while wondrously fragrant, wasn't the curried conflagration we thought it would be. Gravy-free kadai chicken ($24), on the other hand, appropriated the right heat-to-flavor ratio thanks to skilled pinches of garam masala, turmeric, coriander and chili powder, not to mention a bevy of other spices. The menu says the dish is 'flamed at your table,â?� but no such pyromaniacal antics were involved; a whole chicken, hacked and cleaved into an impressively reddened and redolent heap, was tandoor-cooked and served sizzling on a hot plate. Of all the dishes we sampled, this was the highlight. Of the breads we nibbled, ghee-glistening naan ($2) was done right, while overly dry whole-wheat lacha paratha ($3) required an additional brush of clarified butter.
Indian desserts are typically heavy, as milk is a common ingredient. I was on the brink of exploding after just two bites of the cheese rounds in the creamy ras malai ($4), though I did enjoy it as a dessert leftover the following night. Gulab jamun's ($4) doughy balls were a somewhat lighter, though equally pleasing, ending. Properly frothy Madras coffee ($2) was, you guessed it, a heavy and creamy beverage.
The restaurant may have a name shortened for the attention-deficit age in which we live, but prolonged bouts of lethargy and lingering are to be expected, given the nature of the cuisine. To India 4U, we say: BCNU.