CELESTIAL FOOD: At Star of India.
Sami Lal, the owner of Star of India, estimates that he has experimented with more than 500 combinations of sauces and dishes before settling on what to include on his restaurant’s menu.
He’s recently added several new items to go with the terrific longtime favorites at Little Rock’s only (and outstanding) Indian restaurant.
The great-tasting, well-prepared food, combined with Lal’s gregariousness and the friendly attention of the rest of his staff, makes Star of India a terrific dining choice. For those unfamiliar with Indian cuisine, Star is a great place for an indoctrination.
The various curry dishes are of the try-it-once-and-you’re-hooked kind, the sauce being one of those mysteries that, when you recall the experience, makes your mouth water. Our spouse wants to take this nectar of the gods intravenously.
For dinner, we recommend going as a group (though it does have a cozy romantic feel for couples, too) and ordering several entrees to pass around; in most cases, there will be enough food for each member of the group to sample. Or better still, a weekday lunchtime stop at Star of India features a buffet with several favorites, including tandoori (grilled) chicken, all at the low, low price of $6.95. On weekends, Star really steps out with its buffet, offering such items as goat meat, seafood, and vegetable items.
Either way, Lal is happy to recommend choices from throughout the menu, as well as from his beverage selections.
Star’s new menu, by our count, featured 24 new items, plus some off-the-menu choices that regulars know to order up.
The newest appetizer is assorted hors d’oeuvres, which includes the vegetable samosa — fried veggies seasoned just right in a tasty batter. Our favorite among these was the cauliflower. Also, the onion bhaji, which might be best described as an Indian hush puppy, was quickly consumed.
Lal turned us on to three new breads, which are great for dipping with leftover curry and other sauces, or with the mint and tamarind sauces that come complimentary to the table. Poshwari naan is a bread stuffed with herbs, nuts and fruits. Spinach naan is stuffed with Star’s special spinach blend. Another new bread (cheese naan) was mixed with Indian cheese; ask for it, as it’s not on the current menu. Star makes its own bread and cheeses.
Star is a kid-friendly place, too — Sami bonds with kids and adults alike — and such appetizer items as chooza pakora (chicken strips) work well as a full meal, especially with the sweet tamarind sauce for dipping. The finicky 8-year-old that joined our crowd recently has long been a fan of the madras soup, a perfect blend of tomato with a hint of coconut. Lal playfully calls it tomato soup, and this youth needed two cups to accompany his chooza pakora.
Shrimp curry (or beef or chicken curry for the non-seafood eaters) is a must order, with its large shrimp in a not-too-spicy sauce. The spicy beef vindaloo, cooked with potatoes, is another favorite and has a competitor now with the newly added chicken vindaloo.
An additional chicken dish we tried, the new chicken garlic, might sound overpowering, but proved tasty without being overwhelmed by garlic.
Saag paneer is also one spinach dish you’ll be glad you ordered. Cooked in a wonderful cream sauce, it comes with either cheese or chicken. Either way, it’s a winner.
Each meal comes with a big platter of rice to help corral the sauces.
For dessert, we each had a small serving of mango coconut sorbet, and even our coconut hater found this to her liking, with a very fresh mango taste mixing nicely with the coconut. The light dish is just right considering the ample portions of the entrees.
For drinks, Star has the mango lassi, which is like a yogurt shake that fans swear by. Lal convinced us this time to try some of his imported Indian beers, and we’re glad for the suggestion. The Flying Horse was our favorite, with the Taj Mahal being slightly bitter like some wheat beers. We’d be happy with Flying Horse, a pale ale, at any sit down, not just with Indian food. Star also has a good selection of wines by the glass.
Eating at Star of India always turns out to be an event for us, though it’s not reflected in the check. Affordable, fun and the equal to Indian restaurants we’ve visited in much larger cities, Star of India is not to be missed.
Star of India
301 N. Shackleford Road
On Saturdays and Sundays, Star of India features a special lunch buffet of vegetable, non-vegetable and seafood items for $8.95. The regular weekday buffet is a steal at $6.95.
11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily, including Sunday; closes at 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Moderate prices. Credit cards accepted. Beer and wine available.