Traditional Indian food, perfected under new management
By Kate Jonuska | Photos by Phil Mumford
So much talk is expended about teaching old dogs new tricks, while perhaps too little credit is given to the wisdom of young dogs’ respecting old ways. Such is the lesson taught by the young, fresh management of Jaipur Indian Restaurant in downtown Boulder, where the wisdom to perfect and serve traditional Indian food is proving downright delicious.
“This is pure, traditional Indian food,” says Palden Tsering, the restaurant’s manager. Tsering is part of the team that took over the former Bombay Bistro a little more than a year ago and stripped the menu down to northern Indian cuisine.
“The reason we specifically say ‘Indian only,’” Tsering says, “is for one, it keeps things simple and fresh in the kitchen. But also, if you focus on one thing you do it better.”
For instance, focusing their attention on perfecting a staple like chicken tikka masala ($11.95), India’s No. 1 exported dish, creates a robustly spiced, thick tomato sauce in which the charred chicken stays moist. Bringing all their attention to making an ideal lamb korma ($12.95) means the meat marination is superb, the lamb meltingly tender, and the almond-and-cream-based curry spiced to perfection.
The overflowing pantry of Indian spices—ginger, garlic, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, coriander—are all present in Jaipur’s culinary repertoire. And thanks to chef Surinder Singh’s dedication to consistency, each traditional dish’s spice balance is on point every time. “He’s cooked Indian food for almost 30 years. He makes sure everything from the kitchen is right, and that’s why he’s such a good part of the team,” says Tsering, who himself has 18 years of restaurant experience. “With that team, that combination, the restaurant really began to come together.”
A big factor in the recent success is lunch, a meal that Bombay Bistro did not serve. Not only is Jaipur open for lunch, the restaurant has seen the lunchtime buffet ($8.95) become their biggest draw. Add a soda or tea for $1, and “all you can eat” will cost you under $10—and all you’ll eat will be high-quality, often including a fish or seafood option alongside classic offerings like lentil tarka dall, vegetable curry, saag paneer (creamed spinach with cheese) and tandoori meats.
A Nod to Healthiness
At Jaipur, though, classic doesn’t always mean unimproved or ignorant of its customers’ changing food preferences, especially in regard to healthiness. The restaurant’s massively popular chicken tikka masala, for instance, includes all the almost-fluorescent spice coating of traditional chicken tandoori, but uses only boneless, skinless white-meat chicken. The dish arrives on a sizzling platter atop charred sweet onions, topped with a lemon wedge for a dash of acidity. And unlike its predecessor, Jaipur now uses a traditional tandoori oven, which requires almost no oil.
“Since Boulder thinks a little more about being healthy than other cities, we think about that too,” says Tsering. While he notes that the kitchen can customize any order based on health concerns, there’s often no such need. “On my menu, except the breads and the samosas, the rest is gluten-free.”
The bread and samosas simply cannot yet be made both gluten-free and delicious, he explains, and deliciousness is always the goal. Indeed, those vegetable samosas ($3) packed with potatoes and peas are crisp and tasty. Then again, so are the now gluten-free vegetable pakoras ($3.50). Finding that the fritters taste at least as good with chickpea flour, the chef easily made the switch.
Like many Indian restaurants, Jaipur is ideal for vegetarians, with more than a dozen vegetable specialities, a favorite being the bharta makhni ($9.95), eggplant tandoori-roasted, then puréed, and served dotted with green peas. While there’s not yet a specific vegan menu, almost all dishes can be made with coconut milk instead of cream or yogurt, and many are vegan as is, such as the cauliflower, potatoes and spices of the alu gobi ($9.95).
Prices to Be Happy About
In addition to the lunch buffet, Jaipur’s specials include a three-course dinner for two ($24.99) and killer happy-hour drink specials. Every day from open until 6:30 p.m., draft beers (currently several Avery brews) are a rock-bottom $2. After 6:30, drafts go back to their regular price of only $3. The eatery is also blessed with free parking (after validation) only steps from its front door.
“Especially being in downtown Boulder, with all the high prices and rents, we want to be wallet friendly. People may come to have a beer, but when they try our food, they’ll come back. I know they will.”
After all, business has been great so far by all the modern measurements, including above-average (4-plus) star ratings on all the major review sites like Yelp, UrbanSpoon and TripAdvisor. So when asked for management’s plan for Jaipur’s future, Tsering says the current plans are already succeeding so well that continued smooth sailing is their only main goal.
“A year ago, no one knew us. Now our reviews, 95 percent are positive,” he says. “That’s already everyone’s dream! We’re just pleased to be making people so happy.”
Kate Jonuska (www.katejonuska.com) is a Boulder freelance writer of fiction, features and food. She tweets as @kjonuska.