A&E

Indian innovation

Broadway Masala tilts trendy but is grounded in traditional Indian cuisine

A large white Buddha oversees the dark red dining room at Broadway Masala, where lychee cocktails are served with lamb tacos and plates of biryani. This is India-meets-California with an upscale bent and it works.

Broadway Masala opened in Redwood City in 2013 only to suffer a devastating electrical fire less than two years later. The owners rebuilt and reopened in May 2017, continuing their focus on Indian standards interspersed with some surprising offerings like fig and walnut kofta, tandoori-roasted artichoke hearts and naan stuffed with bacon. I enjoyed two dinners at Broadway Masala and left satisfied, albeit a little let down by a few of the offerings.

Anupam Bhatia owns Broadway Masala with business partner Puneet Chandak. He previously ran an Indian restaurant in Alaska before being lured back to warmer climes to serve as the general manager of Palo Alto's tony Amber India for five years. Bhatia also owns Spice Affair, an upmarket Indian eatery in Beverly Hills. He told me the culinary ethos underpinning Broadway Masala is the desire to showcase the diversity of cuisine from across the subcontinent, including Indian street food, while making use of seasonal, California-grown produce. Vegan dishes are starred and the menu invites diners to name their food sensitivities and the restaurant will endeavor to accommodate them.

There is no lunch buffet at Broadway Masala and the prices, while fair overall, reflect the restaurant's focus on food and ambiance that are a tier or two above the standard Indian dining experience. I'm normally irked by televisions in any establishment other than a sports bar, so I was initially annoyed to see a large one dominating Broadway Masala's bar. But the peaceful presence of the Buddha and the warm glow of lotus flower candles succeeded in making me feel fairly Zen about the flickering TV. Less than 1 percent of India's population is Buddhist, by the way. The trappings here are all about creating a relaxing, Asia-cool ambiance.

Gobi Manchurian ($10.95) is always one of my go-tos when I see this Indo-Chinese cauliflower treat on a menu. The florets were heavily breaded and deep fried, smothered in a medium-spicy, tangy, tomato-based sauce that showcased plenty of garlic and ginger. Gunpowder shrimp ($15.95) was another spicy and complex appetizer: five plump shrimp covered with a thick, chili-infused sauce redolent of tamarind and curry.

I had high hopes for the tandoori-roasted artichoke hearts ($12.95). Plated beautifully on a black slate slab with an artistic drizzle of mustard and a crunchy side salad, the yogurt-marinated hearts turned out not to be the fresh ones I expected, but the pedestrian ones you buy in a jar. The mustard was an odd accompaniment.

By contrast, the pulled lamb tacos ($11.95) made for a delightful fusion experience. Thin pieces of phulka, an Indian flatbread, stood in perfectly for tortillas. Each of my two tacos were stuffed to bursting with cumin-scented lamb, pickled onions, lettuce and a cooling raita.

The lamb biryani ($19.95) was mouth-searing, but otherwise typical of biryani you would encounter in any decent Indian restaurant: chunks of fork-tender lamb and basmati rice served simply in a stainless steel bowl. The scallop and prawn moilee ($19.95) is a seafood curry from the Kerala region of India, on the country's southwestern coast. Aromatic and bright yellow, the dish was reminiscent of a Thai curry. We received three scallops and three to four prawns, which seemed paltry at the price point. This was the only dish we tried over two dinners that could have benefitted from more creativity in terms of presentation.

Rawat's chicken kalimirch ($17.95) was delicious. Chunks of tender chicken were stewed in a thick, decadent gravy made with cashews and black peppercorns. We lopped up every drop of the nutty sauce with our naan ($3.25). The ajwain salmon tikka ($18.95) provided three good-sized pieces of salmon rubbed with carom seed (similar to caraway) and baked to tender perfection in the tandoor.

Service was attentive and friendly, with waiters bustling around the dining room topping off water glasses and checking in frequently but not obtrusively. Special props to the waiter on our first visit, who did us right on the cocktail pricing even though we were seated 15 minutes after the end of happy hour (daily from 5-6:30 p.m.). My Indian Indulgence (vodka, lychee juice and Chambord) was tasty but diminutive. My dining companion's mango mojito was a little weak and syrupy, but at the happy hour prices, we were happy enough. Cocktails are $8 during happy hour and $12 regularly. Broadway Masala offers about 20 wines by the glass, mostly obscure California labels, and a similar number by the bottle.

Indian cuisine makes such beautiful use of the full palette of spices and tongue-tingling flavors that honestly, I find it hard to go wrong at virtually any Indian restaurant. Broadway Masala keeps things interesting by having some fun with fusion, but not taking things too far.

Broadway Masala

2397 Broadway St., Redwood City

broadwaymasala.net

Hours: Lunch daily 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner Sunday-Thursday 5-9:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 5-10 p.m.

Credit cards: Yes

Reservations: Yes

Catering: Yes

Outdoor seating: No

Parking: No

Alcohol: Full bar

Bathroom: Excellent

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