Desi Village offers adventure in Indian and Pakistani dishes From traditional curries to homemade breads, the fare at this BYO is anything but routine.

Posted: March 23, 2003

KING OF PRUSSIA — From our booth seat inside Desi Village, a new, authentic Indian and Pakistani BYO, my party joked that we could be anywhere - even Kansas.

That impression came mainly from our window view of a Best Western Hotel across the street. It seemed that somewhere in America, there was a similar scene: a nearly empty ethnic restaurant next to a hotel.

The restaurant is usually the size of a bowling alley with a huge cast of casual servers - ditto for Desi Village on a recent Saturday night.

There were other classically familiar touches - fake chandeliers hanging from the foam-core ceiling and turquoise-colored plastic chairs - but Desi Village is far from ordinary.

For one thing, the food is exceptional in its authenticity.

This is a place for traditional curries, native barbecue, homemade breads, chutneys, and all those fragrant spices that one associates with India.

The majority of dishes are from northern India, with a few vindaloos, or fiery hot curries, from the south.

A hint of the cooking style here, I soon discovered, is suggested in the restaurant's name. Desi means country in the Urdu language. (The owner, Ali Bukhari, hails from Pakistan. He has a restaurant with the same name in Brooklyn and was encouraged to open this second location last April by a family friend.)

Desi Village is in a new shopping complex, next to - convenient for a BYO - a liquor store. The moment you enter, you can smell the spices: the gingers, tamarinds, cumins and cardamoms.

The country flavor of the cuisine comes across in the numerous tandoori specialties - meats that have been tenderized in a traditional clay pot.

The decor is somewhat confusing, such as the lighted screen showing a river scene in China - that was left behind when a former Chinese restaurant closed - but still, Desi Village offers the kind of adventure that only an ethnic-foods place can bring.

In other words, like a visitor to another country, you have to learn to relax and not take anything too personally.

At Desi Village, that advice seems to apply only to the service, which picked up after the evening progressed and we had ordered a lot. Our server apparently took us for serious eaters and respectfully treated us as such.

Once seated and squared way with menus, my table soon grew used to the idea that we were our own island, to be visited on occasion by solicitous servers who rarely spoke except to warn us about touching hot plates.

The dishes were delivered on a little trolley and then placed ceremoniously, one steaming plate at a time, in groups on the table.

I was told later that each dish is spiced according to the customer's wishes, which might explain why there was little detail on the menu.

Again, like a traveler, a knowledgeable diner will have more fun here than someone who is not familiar with cuisine of places such as Kashmir, the city of Hyderabad or Goa, to name a few of the places mentioned on the menu.

It had been awhile since I last had traditional Indian foods, and I had forgotten that healthy, clean-out-the-senses effect of spicy foods.

I ordered what is usually considered a medium-hot dish - the lamb rogan josh - which was served boneless and juicy from being cooked slowly in spices and tomato.

The six other lamb dishes ranged from the very mild masala curry to those made according to the so-called Pakistani-style, with green pepper and ginger.

Choices abound at Desi Village, beginning with the more than dozen breads made here and a number of vegetarian specialties.

After working our way through two appetizers and our shared plates of lamb, chicken, grilled meats and a vegetarian dish, we were treated with the upmost respect.

The server came forward when it was obvious that the meal was nearing completion. We couldn't decide on the dessert, although a mere five were offered.

Our server came through with a recommendation, however: a simple dish of traditional "village" ice cream.

Contact suburban staff writer Catherine Quillman at 610-701-7629 or cquillman@phillynews.com.

Desi Village

145 S. Gulph Rd., King of Prussia. 610-265-8500.

Hours: Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.. A lunch buffet is offered from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and dinner is served from 5 to 11 p.m.

The menu: Traditional northern Indian cuisine with some specialties from Pakistan and those faraway countries along the traditional "spice" trail. Alas, it's a BYO, but if you forget to bring your own, a liquor store is next door.

I'll have another: The kitchen is particularly light on battered fried foods, so don't be wary of items made from batter or baked in a pastry. For appetizers, try the somosas made with delicately cumin-flavored potatoes and peas. Coconut-lovers should try the chicken malabar appetizer served with an addictive mango chutney. We also tried the tandoori mixed grill, which gave you a selection of differently spiced chicken, lamb and seafood. For mild palates, try any of the biryani rice dishes, which include shrimp and chicken cooked in a sealed pot with long-grain basmati rice. Whatever you order, you'll be sure to bring home leftovers because the portions are enormous.

How much: Appetizers, $4.95 to $9.95. Entrees, $9.95 to $21.95 (for the seafood dishes). Lunch buffet, $10.95. Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express accepted.

How loud: Not loud, but the serving trolleys rattle like gurneys as they are pushed into and out of the kitchen.

Reservations: They are accepted on weekends, but the place seats 208.

Children's menu: No.

Smoking: No.

Facilities for handicapped: Yes.

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