India Blue can certainly lay claim to the title as Orlando’s largest Indian restaurant, as it does on the cover of its take-out menu. Or to quote it more precisely, “Orlando’s Largest Indian Dining.” Its assertion that it is also “Orlando’s Finest Indian Restaurant,” however, is arguable. There were some good points to my meal, but also some not so good.
As far as the bullet point on the menu’s cover of “Celebrity Chef from New York,” well, wouldn’t you think it would also mention said celebrity chef’s name? Seriously, if Mario Batali were to open a restaurant here, don’t you think they’d tout it more than “a well-known Italian cook”? Don’t get excited, Batali isn’t the chef here. That position, I discovered on the restaurant’s Web site, is held by Robbie Chandhoke. What’s that? You’ve never heard of Chandhoke? Neither have I. And if you can find anything online that even remotely places him anywhere near celebritydom, other than repeated references to India Blue’s own assertion, you’re a better Googler than I.
Look, I understand marketing, and I can appreciate the motives for pumping up a cook’s prestige. But this smacks of the kind of thinking that assumes people in Orlando — and those visiting — aren’t sophisticated enough to know any better than what they’re told.
Anyway, back to the food. The menu matches the restaurant in size. There are ample vegetarian and nonvegetarian selections, with several Indian variations that aren’t as familiar on other area menus.
The best of what I sampled was the lamb dish gosht-do-piaza. It featured tender chunks of lamb in a rich dark gravy flavored with garam masala, the spice blend found in so many Moghul and Northern Indian dishes. It was delicious and so evenly spiced, with just the right amount of heat. And by the way, I really appreciated that no one asked how hot my guest and I wanted our dishes. Spicy entrees are marked with one to four stars on the menu to indicate their level of heat. They appear to be honestly marked, as this one had two stars. You can probably expect a dish with four to earn its designation as “ouch.”
My aloo gobhi entree wasn’t quite as good. It had way too many chunks of potatoes and not nearly enough cauliflower. The seasonings, too, were a bit uneven.
I liked the onion bhajji, the fritters fashioned out of shredded onion held together with a chickpea batter. They were deftly deep-fried and came out ungreasy. They were served, as was the pappadum we were offered upon seating, with the holy trinity of chutneys: onion, mint and tamarind.
The keema naan was disappointing, unless you like your naan as spongy as pizza dough. It’s not the sort of naan that will make you famous.
India Blue brings to International Drive the annoying British practice of charging extra for rice. (There is an Indian restaurant in the Lake Buena Vista area that started doing it years ago.) I do think that if a restaurant is going to charge $2.95 for plain basmati it should serve more than the tiny dish my guest and I shared.
India Blue occupies the building that for many years was Darrel’s. Most recently it was Bogard’s, a restaurant with a nondescript menu that thought it would be fun to have its female staffers wear torn fishnet stockings. It’s a two-story restaurant with a central bar (full liquor) in an atrium open to both levels. Thankfully, the new owners removed the ice chute fashioned out of Plexiglass that delivered ice noisily from a rooftop ice-maker. Brick walls ooze mortar, and there is a stained concrete floor. Tabletops are lacquered, napkins are cloth. Our server was friendly and helpful, but we found it annoying that she and other servers, largely with nothing to do, congregated nearby with a cook who may or may not have been the famous chef. I appreciated that we were greeted warmly when we walked in and were thanked for coming when we left.
Prices are a bit steep: $17.95 for the lamb dish, $13.95 for the meatless aloo gohbi. Even steeper when you have to buy the rice. They’ll have to offer more consistent quality and more than the opportunity to eat the food of a celebrity chef from New York if they want to be known as Orlando’s finest.
India Blue is at 8282 International Drive, Orlando. It’s open for dinner daily. Here is a link to the Web site. The phone number is 407-363-5333.