The tastes and smells of India House transport diners to a faraway place. 

Passage to India

With its less than fashionable Westwood Avenue location and its humble appearance, is so inconspicuous and unassuming that even those who ought to know better might be tempted to prejudge its fare. But to do so would be a mistake, for, as I found out, its serves good food at a great value. Its simple interior is trimmed in two slightly alarming shades of pink and decorated with Indian prints and textiles. Outdated vinyl booths line one wall, and a thick aroma of spices hangs heavily in the air. Pleasant Indian music resonates in the background, and as you take your seat, a gracious server arrives with warm and peppery pappad (lentil crisp). For a passing moment you're transported to some faraway place. Then, from across the street the unsightly Sears "Scratch and Dent" warehouse catches your eye, and the moment has passed.

But forget about location and décor, neither of which affects the flavor of good food, and start studying your menu. Indian cuisine excels in the appetizer department, especially in the finger-food genre, and the appetizers at India House are not to be passed over. Try, as we did, the vegetable samosa, a savory pastry stuffed with potatoes and peas, and pleasantly spiced with whole cumin seeds. They'll arrive crisp and warm with a tart dipping sauce, and are a good bargain at two for $2.50. Another fine choice, the aloo papdi ($3.95), is a curious melange that I've not encountered elsewhere. Crispy pappad pieces and cilantro leaves garnish a dish of soft cubed potatoes in a spiced yogurt sauce with tamarind and mint chutney. The dish contrasts some fascinating flavors and includes a battery of intriguing spices that I'd be hard pressed to catalog.

[image-1](Stacy Warner / richmond.com)To visit India House without sampling its specialty breads would be a grave mistake. Try the paratha, a whole-wheat flat bread offered plain, or stuffed with potatoes, spiced radish, lamb or chicken. I'll recommend the potato version ($2.95) which is rich with ghee and more akin to an appetizer than a bread. If it's a more modest bread you're looking for, try India House's naan ($1.50), a pleasant unleavened white-flour flat bread with a mild flavor that is welcome amidst the plethora of spicy concoctions on this menu.

If at any point during your meal you should suffer an intense burning sensation raging out of control in your mouth, India House has just the antidote. Lassi (mango or regular flavor $1.75) is a sweet and soothing yogurt drink that provides enough relief to get you back on your feet, and it tastes great to boot.

Entrees arrive in individual copper dishes accompanied by a faintly hued saffron rice pilaf. We sampled one meat and one veggie dish, from which, incidentally, there are around a dozen to choose. India House's rogan josh ($10.95) is an intense lamb curry topped with almonds. Large cubes of tender lamb are stewed in a thick, dark and pungent sauce with garlic, ginger, cumin, cardamom, coriander and countless other spices that I couldn't hope to inventory. It's a delicious dish but so strongly flavored that I was glad to have another milder entrée to balance it out. Mattar paneer ($8.25) features cubes of Indian homemade cheese with green peas in a lighter curry sauce. We ordered the lamb medium spicy and the matter paneer mild. I found the medium to be a just shy of the point where the intensity of the heat steals the whole show, and I'd order it that way again.

[image-2](Stacy Warner / richmond.com)If you visit India House, and you should, I encourage you to invest $1.95 in a dessert. How can you resist a dessert with a name like "gulab jamun" which is curiously described as a "cinnamon flavored pastry sponge, soaked in honey and rosewater?" The "pastry sponge," it turns out, is something like a doughnut hole in a sweet rosewater syrup, and is really rather good. Kulfi is a homemade ice cream that is icy and granular but nicely flavored with almonds and pistachios. As for the kheer, a cardamom flavored rice pudding, that'll have to be for next time.

And make no mistake, there will be a next time. India House's fare is on par with the best Indian food I've had in the area, and it's offered at an incredible value. We feasted on two appetizers (either of which would have been sufficient for two), two orders of specialty breads, two lassi, two entrees and two desserts, all for $38. If you like Indian food but have had doubts about this place, as I did, I encourage you to set them aside and give it try. You'll be glad you

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