Until a few years ago, most Indian restaurants served the foods of Northern India, rich and often creamy concoctions that are sometimes called "royal" cuisine. India is vast, and what a Punjabi in the north eats is very different from what someone in Madras in the south enjoys, the foods of Kashmir distinct from that of Kerala. As the American interest in Indian food and flavors has grown, restaurants have -- thankfully -- begun branching out. And restaurateurs discovered diners can't seem to get enough of the dosa, a paper-thin crepe served with a soup-like sauce and a small bowl of coconut chutney.
Samir and Prakruti Majmudar, who owned Bombay Bistro and several other Indian restaurants, had experimented with dosas and a few other Southern Indian dishes when they owned Rangoli in Allston. Now they've renamed their Brookline restaurant Rani and decided to explore another part of their homeland, adding a menu of dishes from Hyderabad, a city that straddles the north and south. The cuisine combines, as Samir Majmudar says in a phone interview, a luxurious style of Muslim cooking with the spicier fare of Southern India.
The restaurant, expanded with a pretty bar at the front and extra seating in the back room, has a warm feeling with deep rust-colored walls and coppery details. One weekend evening when our party has expanded past our reservation, we are graciously accommodated within minutes in spite of what looks to be a full house.
The complexity of the Hyderabadi dishes is notable with more tanginess in several dishes and a subtle mix of spices. Murg musalem, a chicken breast stuffed with ground meat and then roasted, is served with a deliciously savory sauce that is given heft and texture with cashew paste.
A lamb curry is flavored more simply with ginger and plenty of garlic; the simplicity reveals the tenderness and quality of the meat. An eggplant dish, baghare baigan, shows off tiny eggplants in a slightly sour sauce that has the flavor of tamarind. Green mango chicken is another tangy dish, although in this case an underlying sweetness cuts the sourness nicely.
Prakruti Majmudar does the vegetarian cooking, her husband says, and, because she is Hindu, does not even touch meat. The care taken in these dishes, Hyderabadi or not, is remarkable. Black lentils cooked with tomatoes and onions, dal makhani, sounds as though it might be dull, but the gentle spicing brightens the soupy mixture: It's delicious.
An appetizer of crispy poories, like brittle little popovers, are filled with moong lentils and potatoes and flavored with the sharp notes of tamarind. The dish is pretty, texturally interesting, and very tasty. Black chickpeas with spinach and potatoes also have the tang of tamarind in a slightly creamy, slightly soured yogurt sauce. A simple, barely creamy tomato soup is also good, served with tiny pooris that resemble puff pastries.
That, of course, brings up breads, and Rani's are expertly made. We try plain naan, addictive in its toasty edges, and kulcha stuffed with onions. But the best is Peshawari naan, filled with finely chopped almonds, cashews, dates, and raisins. The soft naan-like bread makes a canvas for the fruit and nuts, making it much more compelling than just an accompaniment for other dishes.
This use of dried fruits in unusual ways shows up, too, in a lamb curry spiked with slivers of almonds and apricots, which gives the savory meat a lilting sweet-sour flavor. Fish dishes are less interesting. Sea bass char-grilled in a tandoor oven is too dry, and the same fish in a tomato and fenugreek curry is almost tasteless.
However, an appetizer of shrimp in a quite spicy sauce is very good and attractively served with cylinder-shaped pooris and wedges of cucumber and mango.
Rani dips farther south with a selection of dosas and idlis (steamed rice and lentil cakes). Though I remember those served at Rangoli with fondness, my one tasting here isn't as successful. The spicy dipping sauce filled with vegetables is tasty, but the dosa itself is dry and seems to lack the slightly fermented sourness that gives the crepe its distinction.
Rani has a good range of wines and beers and a full dessert list. Although the rice pudding is acceptable but bland -- and the kulfi almost too stiff -- we all love a simple dish of yogurt cheese suffused with saffron.
The best of Rani's good food and the pleasantness of the restaurant are dampened by one aspect: On both visits, getting anyone to wait on us is excruciating. Waiters seem to glide to and fro without ever meeting our eyes. In the room at the back, or in the front, on a busy night or a much quieter weeknight, there seems to be no one really in charge of our table. When we finally do catch a waiter's eye, he looks startled that we'd like service. However, once ordered, the food comes fairly quickly and in proper progression.
Samir Majmudar, who also plans to offer a separate menu soon of tapas-size plates, is concentrating on Rani these days, giving up his other restaurants. On the food, Rani shines in many ways. The cuisine deserves sparkling service, too.
Restaurants reviewed by the Globe's regular critic, Alison Arnett, are rated on a scale of one to four stars, four being the highest. Star ratings are not used for compilation reviews or pieces by guest writers. Full restaurant reviews may be retrieved from Boston.com at www.boston.com/ae/food/restaurants.
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