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Star of India

There are restaurants that win me over quickly -- love at first bite, or damn close to it. There are other restaurants I have to ease into slowly, coming around to their flavors or unique takes on cuisine by the end of the meal. And then there are places that I flat-out can't stand at first blush but wind up wandering back into at some later date (mostly because of my blown-out short-term memory and generalized dumb-assitude when it comes to keeping names and places straight) and totally falling for, my earlier opinion notwithstanding. Star of India is one of these places, a restaurant that I was sure was trying to kill me on my first visit -- and so charmed me a year later that I could barely remember what it was I hadn't liked. (For the record, it was the heat of many of the dishes, which were tuned so high I couldn't handle them.) Last week, after gorging myself at Jewel of India, I stopped by Star of India again -- and I'm pleased to report that, if anything, it's gotten better than when I reviewed it ("Heat Wave," June 2, 2005). While ordering anything "hot" here can still be a murderous mistake, absent any severe lingual trauma, you'll find dishes at Star of India that no one else in town does as well. For example, the kabli naan -- flat, tandoor-baked wheat bread stuffed with a thin layer of sweet nut paste and raisins -- is just amazing. Between the sweetness of the fruits and nuts, the naan's solidity and the delicate butter-and-char flavor of the surface hot off the oven, this is a fabulous bread. Also wonderful is the saag paneer, keyed for more of a savory flavor than sweet, and still spicy even when ordered mild. And finally, the alu mutter -- potatoes cooked with peas and gravy and more spices than I can even attempt to name here -- far transcends the bounds of what should be possible with a lowly potato. I'm a Mick, and I know potatoes. I also know good Indian food, and Star of India still makes it.

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