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Dining out: The quietly consistent Royal India
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Whoever says food and dining don't matter in a world of newsworthy upheaval is obviously a bad eavesdropper.

Take one evening at Sandy's Royal India. Behind me, one family discussed their health-care options. Self-employed dad outlined what his daughter's choices were now that she would be going to college. He fortified his points with oversized bites of chicken coconut kurma ($12.95). The daughter listened glumly as she reached for more of her sizzling chicken tikka ($13.95). I eavesdropped during the awkward bouts of silence, punctuated by the clang of the serving spoons against the basmati rice bowl.

Across the dining room, an empty-nest couple ordered a second round of the warm, teardrop-shaped naan ($1.25). The delicious flatbread in their mouths cushioned the harsh words coming out. "His mom hasn't heard from him for a couple of weeks," the husband said. "He's stationed somewhere in Afghanistan."

Even the setting itself isn't a bubble from economic reality. It was quiet that dinner. Too quiet. Owner-manager, Emanuel, noted that business is down 40 percent from the same time last year. "We're trying to stay afloat," he said with an upbeat but cautious smile. Sadly, the characteristic decline is ubiquitous among restaurants as consumers tighten their belts and forego the masala for a box of mac 'n cheese. For Royal India, too, the increased competition from new Indian eateries dilutes an already small contingent of curry-lovers.

Still, whether for solace, company or a reprieve from kitchen duty, there are those who eat out. For anyone considering spending money on a restaurant, here's my plug for frequenting local businesses.

Especially the quietly consistent Royal India. It's one of the veterans among the Indian restaurant community, extending its aromatic influence into Sandy and north into Bountiful. With a judicious and balanced touch to seasoning and the gorgeous textures of many dishes, Royal India's flavors are lighter on the stomach, but just as intense on the palate.

Like many suburban restaurants, Royal India calls a neighborhood strip mall home. Even as neighboring businesses have come and gone, the restaurant is still serving dinner Monday through Saturday.

Take-out patrons sit in the waiting area. The straightforward dining room is neither gaudy nor sumptuous, but just fine for a reasonably priced Indian repast.

After a while, the servers along with Emanuel become familiar faces offering recommendations when the menu seems overwhelming. Two people could easily share any one of the dishes. Add an order of the butter naan ($2.50) to supplement the complementary basmati rice (speckled nicely with cumin seeds and ghee).

Traditionally, two starches is overdoing it. But in hard times, I need comfort. Plus, they both do well to catch the luscious sauces.

Butter chicken ($12.95) is a universally friendly dish, even for people who say they don't like Indian food. It's creamy, has tender pieces of meat and in Royal India's case, isn't slicked with excessive fat. In the vindaloo's ($11.95 to $13.95), tangy scarlet sauce lightens tender potatoes and equally soft chunks of lamb.

There are plenty of vegetarian dishes on the menu, most of them delicious to satisfy carnivores, including palak paneer ($10.95), which features soft morsels of the fresh Indian cheese that alone tastes something like tofu. But when it's swimming in a luscious pool of chopped spinach, cream, and just enough spices to liven things up, it's worthy of the praise reserved for the spinach sides of expensive steak houses. Daal maharani ($9.95) defies blandness, and I like to pair the creamy dish of soft cooked lentils, allium and tomatoes with naan as a somewhat unorthodox dip.

I've ordered entrées as shared meals or in the daal 's case as a companion to my bread. I've had appetizers like the jumbled onion slices in the crunchy bajji ($4.95) or the crisp vegetable pakora (fritters $4.95) as main meals. Samosas -- deep fried pockets of curried potatoes or ground lamb with peas -- are hearty enough for a light meal.

One of the less conventional finds on the menu is the South Indian Delights section. Dosas ($7.95-$11.95) are essentially oversized crêpes made with a batter of lentil and rice flour. As anyone who's had a gluey excuse of a French crêpe knows, it's hard to get the right crispness to the edges, especially with something so large. But Royal India's lacy edges are rolled and served plain with a drizzle of clarified butter or stuffed with savory curried potatoes or ground lamb. Each comes with a bowl of the brown mustard seed-spiked sambar soup. Aromatic, rounded in flavor and at the same time light, it's a perfect match for the substantial crepe.

Yes, I just spent the last few hundred words delving fully into food and nothing but. Yes, I began with a declaration that food and dining are entwined in the news of our lives. But the other fantastic, convenient thing about dining is that sometimes food can shift your focus. It's hard to be depressed when you see a 4-year-old with sticky lips dive into the chewy kulfi ice cream and royal mango mousse cake ($6.95). It's a momentary, fortifying reprieve before you step out Royal India's doors and back into the worrying pockets of life.

E-mail Vanessa Chang at food@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">food@sltrib.com.

Royal India

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Along with a sister restaurant in Bountiful, it's a veteran in the Indian dining scene. Butter chicken, pakora fritters, samosas, lamb vindaloo and baked flatbreads are excellent. Try Southern Indian options like the dosa -- a huge crêpe filled with your choice of curried potatoes or ground lamb.

Location » 10263 S. 1300 East, Sandy; 801-572-6123

Online » http://www.royalindiautah.com" Target="_BLANK">royalindiautah.com

Hours » Monday to Thursday, 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.; Friday to Saturday, 4:30 to 10 p.m.

Children's menu » No

Prices » $$

Liquor » Beer and wine

Corkage » $6.95

Reservations » Accepted

Takeout » Yes

Wheelchair access » Yes

Outdoor dining » No

On-site parking » Yes

Credit cards » All major

Review » Veteran restaurant offers comfort food for turbulent times.
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