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Dining Out: A touch of India

MILAN PALACE

248-08 Union Turnpike

Bellerose

718-831-0200

My friend and I were off to Milan Palace in Bellerose. "I'd love to have Indian food," she said. "I've only had it once and that was last May in London. It just so happens that London was one of my first encounters but that was in the '50s when sheiks, to my utter delight, filled the English streets."

The imposing, very colorful, imported double doors of Milan Palace, named after a palace in India, do not have door knobs. Instead, you pull on a chain - and that adds charm. A bright teal blue and maroon room greets you.

It's tastefully accented with brass objects d'art - an enormous teapot (at least 4 feet tall) rests on a stand on one side with three handsome silver window screens. Elephants are on parade up front. All is serene.

The rear wall has a glass window that allows you to view the tandoori oven and the making and baking of naan, thick pita-like rounds that puff up. A tall Indian cook, dressed all in white, slaps one on the inside wall of the hell-hot, well-like, clay oven. When browned, it's turned and slapped against the inside wall once more. The baked naan are then stacked one top the other. This is the house bread.

When seated, you are served papadum (at Milan Palace these are rolled like a scroll) to dip in the mint chutney and tamarind sauce.

For our first course, we chose the assorted vegetarian appetizers - two each of vegetarian samosa, a pastry stuffed with seasoned potatoes and fresh green peas; pakora - batter dipped, deep fried fritters; and papadams. Each was a greaseless delight. With it we sampled two Indian beers. The bottles are very tall and the taste differs from our American beers. Both were very light and lovely, more fruity in flavor.

Now for the entrees. I had lamb (you can have goat, if you wish) rogan josh - cubed lamb cooked in a tangy onion and tomato gravy. It was served, as all the entrees, in attractive metal dishes with a side dish of rice. She ordered Biryanis, a rice entree - curried chicken layered with fragrant rice and nuts (there is also a shrimp, vegetable and shahjahan - a mixture of lamb, chicken and shrimp in a saffron rice-version.)

A salad of carrots and greens accompanied our entrees, and of course the hot naan. We also had an interesting dish of round potato croquettes in a creamy cashew sauce. I am continually amazed at Indian cooks' creativity with potatoes.

Dessert for me was Indian rice pudding, creamy and a touch exotic tasting. Hers was rasamali, white cheese balls in a milky sauce - refreshing and soothing as always.

Here, Indian tea is spiced and comes with milk added to it. The server inquired pridefully, "Do you like it? I just made it." We assured him we did. And we really did.

Milan Palace's buffet lunch with 16 items - two chicken, one lamb, one rice, a lentil dish, and salad bar - and the brunch on Saturday and Sunday with 22 items should not be missed. There is a big metal pot of soup at one end. The salad bar at the other end offers chutneys, mango, onion, cucumber and chopped tomato salad with homemade yogurt.

I especially liked the hot pickle with pea-like capers and lime halves mixed in a hot sauce. There was naan on my table and I broke off small pieces to scoop up some food with thumb and forefinger of my right hand. The blending of flavors is the way the they enjoy it in India., and it is superior eating.

At another station there sits a large metal pan with rasamali. Help yourself. They're extra delicious.

I have been to many Indian restaurants over the years, here in Queens and in Manhattan. They have always been a sometime thing. But I'd like to adopt Milan Palace as my neighborhood restaurant with return visits. Its serene surroundings, good food and pleasant service are "moreish."

The Bottom Line

Appealing Indian restaurant. Serene surroundings. Pleasant service. Fine food, mildly spiced. Party room to 170.

Chef's Choice

Vegetable Samosa (pastry stuffed

with potatoes and garden fresh

peas)...$1.50

Milan Special Mixed Grill (for two)...$7.95

Tandoor Chicken...$7.99

Rogan Josh (cubed lamb or goat

cooked in a tangy onion and tomato

gravy)...$6.99/$8.99

Navratan Korma (nine garden-fresh

vegetables gently cooked in mild

spices and cream, sprinkled with

nuts)....$4.99/$5.99

Shrimp Bhuna (shrimp cooked in spe

cially prepared herbs and spices with

touch of garlic and ginger)....$11.99

Food: Indian--mostly northern

Setting: Serene. brass accents

Service: Pleasant

Hours: D/days. Buffet L Mon. to Fri.

Brunch Sat. and Sun.

Location: East of Cross Island

Parkway

Dress: Sari and casual

Credit Cards: All major

Noise level: Low. Indian music back

ground

Party room: Newly renovated. To 170

Takeout: Yes

Catering off premises: Yes

Smoking: None

Wheelchair access: Yes

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