Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Palace at the Ben: A Hidden Treasure

The best part of having my parents visit me is that I get to go wherever I want to eat... and they pay. But impressing them is hard and we had already explored all of the well known places that any food-crazy Penn student can recite by their second semester freshman year as easily as the on campus dining hours: Banana Leaf, Marrakesh, Salentos, Gnocchi’s, Aqua, Charles Plaza…the list goes on. I needed a well-guarded secret, a restaurant that the connoisseurs and true foodies knew about. My Big told me about Palace at the Ben, a restaurant that serves Indian cuisine, and after reading through numerous food blogs and reviews, I was tempted to try it. I’m glad I did because the experience was nothing short of royal.

The restaurant overlooks the beautiful lobby of the Ben Franklin house and when we entered we were greeted by exquisite lounges and ornate maroon cushions, mood enhancing lighting, waterfalls, gold accented tables, vases, paintings and artwork resembling styles from Moghul empire. It was everything great about fine dining.

The menu selection was diverse and tasteful, and even managed to impress my hard to please parents who grew up cooking and eating fresh, traditional home-cooked Indian food. After our last experience at the on campus Indian food places, Sitar and New Delhi, I decided to try something different. We started off the meal with Panir Tikka (9.95), an appetizer with cubes of cottage cheese lightly roasted in a Tandori oven (think cottage cheese kabobs). This was followed up with a heavy main course consisting of Malai Kofta and Vegetable Biriyani. Malai Kofta is a type of curry that goes best with warm, soft traditional breads (naan or its thinner counterpart, roti). The curry is a creamy, spicy sauce made with coconut and sprinkled with raisins and fried vegetable dough simmered in the cream sauce. This can also be eaten with the Vegetable Biryani (16.95)—a fried rice type of dish made with special Indian Basmati rice and sprinkled with cashews, raisins and occasionally pineapples. Be sure to order a side of Mango Chutney (2.25), the slightly sweet and spicy flavor goes perfectly with the rice and the breads and adds an extra zest of flavor.

If that’s just not enough mango for you, pick up the Mango Lassi (5.25), a more authentic version of a mango milkshake with a different flavor. The Lassi contains special yogurt instead of milk and is thick and creamy rather than frothy and light. And if you find youself with room for desert, finish off the night by asking the waiter for the chef’s special gulab jamun, warm fried dough soaked in rosewater syrup and served with cold vanilla ice cream. Visit the Palace and I guarantee that the flavor of the rosewater, and the flavor and experience of your night at the Ben will linger long after the meal is over.

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