Punjab goes right from the start
We could have stopped with the appetizers. A stack of hot nan, right from the tandoor (a clay oven), is sitting beside onion nan, which are similar warm, puffy flatbreads, this time filled with sweet onions. And there’s also keema nan, which has ground lamb in the yeasty layers and tastes surprisingly like Armenian lamejun. Oh, yes, and a dish of papadum, the lacy lentil-based crackers, so crisp you can break off pieces and heap them with spicy onion relish. Or perhaps spread them with bright minty sauce, also in the condiment rack. Or even dip them into cooling cucumber and mint raita ($1.50).
Punjab is a welcoming place with an extensive menu. There are more than half a dozen items featuring goat, including the flecked rice dish, biryani ($13.95), which our waiter tells us twice contains goat on the bone. Goat does not taste like chicken, by the way; it’s more like mild lamb. The waiter’s favorite dish is a gingery goat curry ($13.95), which we also like; it’s fun to nibble on the bones and the sauce, ordered mild, is just hot enough. Parmjit Singh owns Punjab Palace, which he opened three years ago, and also owns the long-running India Quality in Kenmore Square. He’s not out to scare you with heat here, but he’s happy to supply it if you want.
Vegetable pakora ($3.75) are delicious, golden-brown fritters of spinach, potato, and peppers. They’re shaped into little pyramids. At first a pretty bowl of red lentil soup ($2.95) seems watery, but it’s such a pleasing, mild bowl to sip.
The tandoor cooks fish, chicken, shrimp, and lamb. Sheekh kebab ($13.95) is made with ground lamb, pressed onto skewers, and turned into firm sausage. Not very interesting. Tandoori fish ($15.95) is flaky; shrimp ($15.95, pictured) is sweet and succulent, one of the most successful dishes cooked in the oven. They are all bright red, something I’ve never understood, and come with a big mound of onions and more wonderful nan.
Hot lamb vindaloo ($12.95) seems to have more potatoes than meat. Baingan bhartha ($12.95) is a garlicky and lightly smoky eggplant puree mixed with peas. It goes well with cashew-studded, creamy chicken korma ($12.95), which we award favorite dish of the table (besides the nan, of course).
You could sip lentil soup, nibble on nan and raita, work your way through the other breads — pratha, poori, chapati — and leave happy.