We would've probably driven right by Madhuban's State Street locale if it weren't for the accurate directions from the lady who answered their phone. "It's near the Reel Theatre," she said, which was enough detail for us to find the place.
I was a little underwhelmed by the exterior. I have this view of Indian cuisine as something of an epicurean if not regal delectation, deserving of all the extravagant and richly detailed decor that comes to mind when one thinks of Indian culture. Thankfully, any misgivings vanished shortly after we entered. The mingled scents erased any and all prejudices as I remembered why I love this food. Its complex, rich and exotic scents are usually just as satisfying as the act of eating it.
Our server was cheery and quickly brought our drinks. My wife asked for just water, but I had to try one of the Taj Mahal lagers ($5.95/24 oz.) I spied in the cooler.
From our little table against the wall, we could see how busy the place was. Fashioned much like any other strip-mall restaurant of any other specialty, the interior was only slightly more dressed up than the outside. Madhuban is clean and comfortable though, and any India-specific decor was tasteful if not minimal.
The assorted appetizers platter ($6.95) seemed like an appropriate choice since we'd both brought our appetites and were interested in tasting as much as possible. The generous platter was accompanied by a mint and a tamarind chutney which were particularly interesting complements. The deep-fried alu tikki maintained a nice crisp bite on the inside. The vegetable pakora, which were new to us, were another noteworthy part of the platter and pretty tasty. Next came our soups which smelled great and were steaming hot. My mulligatawny ($3.95) was amazing. Realizing the limits of her stomach, my wife opted to leave her lentil soup ($2.95) untouched and asked to have it packed to take home (It reheated well and was delicious).
On my way to the bathroom, I sneaked a peak at the lunch buffet ($6.99) that must've been what brought the 20 or so hungry patrons to the restaurant. The food all looked fresh, abundant and something I'll probably come back for soon. Our meals came shortly after I returned, and I knew we'd be having leftovers at least twice.
Between the two types of naan—chicken ($4.25) and coconut ($3.25)—and our entrees we certainly had our work cut out for us. The chicken naan was pretty standard fare but the coconut naan was a treat, nearly a dessert. My mughlai vindalu ($14.50) was some of the best Indian I've had. The dish is new to me, but I could tell it was made with care. Any dish with three meats risks sacrificing the distinction of each. Not the case here. The shrimp were large and held onto their flavor perfectly. The rich, deep red sauce was good, but a little under-spiced. I had asked for four out of five on the spice meter but nary a bead of sweat dripped down my forehead. Next time, I'm going to go for what the menu refers to as "Bombay Hot." My wife's chicken palak ($12.95) was practical and a little tame, but she enjoyed what she had room for.
No question, we were impressed with the quality and quantity of Madhuban's vittles. And if $50-plus for lunch seems a bit much, all this ended up making closer to five meals than two. Thankfully it all reheated wonderfully.
—Nathan Paradis is a peace-loving, naan-violent guy.