Restaurant review: Flavors flourish at Loves Park's House of India
LOVES PARK, ILL.—A few weeks ago, our group took a quick 30-minute drive down to Loves Park to meet friends at House of India.
The restaurant is located in a small strip mall on East Riverside Boulevard. Beautifully decorated in traditional style, it features creamy terracotta walls, Tiffany-style lighting and a wallpaper border featuring elephants and palm trees. Tablecloths and red cloth napkins give the place a warm and inviting feel.
There is a small bar area that opens to the restaurant's main dining space. With several tables and booths, including some so large they could easily accommodate a crowd, House of India's seating capacity is immense.
Every meal comes with papadum (crispy, wafer-thin crackers) and chutneys, so we started with that as we browsed the menu.
Appetizers were our first order of business, and with many selections to choose from, it was a tough call.
I love flaky samosas ($2.50) filled with spicy potatoes and peas, so we ordered enough for everyone and passed them around the table. We also had to try the shrimp pakora ($5.95), which features succulent shrimp marinated in a blend of masala spices and then battered and deep-fried. While just a tad spicy, they were a big hit all around.
When it came to ordering entrees, it was especially nice to be eating with a large group. Between the seven of us, we had quite a feast, savoring our favorites as well as trying new things.
Dishes are served in gleaming karahi and thali containers, which always make the food taste authentic. I have my definite go-to dishes: fish masala ($15.95), with its rich tomato sauce that I can never get enough of, and bengan bharta ($11.95), which is roasted and mashed eggplant. And I found something new that I fell in love with: naan bread with cherries. I know this sounds odd, but the sweet topping played beautifully with the spices of the main dishes.
I took the liberty of ordering the tandoori mixed grill ($18.95) for my husband, and when the platter came to the table, it was still sizzling and smoking. Pieces of chicken, lamb, beef and shrimp were perfectly charred and arrived with a big serving of vegetable curry.
Nikki ordered the lamb tikka masala ($13.95), one of the menu's signature dishes. With tender chunks of lamb that fell apart in the aromatic, tangy masala sauce, it was not as creamy as she expected. Still, the flavor was wonderful. She ordered the dish mild but got a mango lassi ($3.95) just in case she needed to cut the heat. It really wasn't a necessity, but the cool yogurt drink is always a treat regardless.
Jennifer was pleasantly surprised to see detailed descriptions of entrees on the back of the menu. They came in handy because she was not too familiar with Indian cuisine.
After perusing all the options, she decided to try the house special vegetable thali ($18.95), which consists of several dishes served in individual bowls on a large metal plate. When her meal was served, it was quite a sight to see.
One bowl contained dal makhani made with lentils, and it had a distinct, rich flavor. Another bowl brimmed with zucchini, cauliflower, summer squash and onions in a tomato-based sauce that was well seasoned. The vegetables were cooked to perfection and not mushy or overcooked.
Jennifer's favorite bowl was the spinach, which came with hunks of tomatoes and mushrooms and topped with cilantro. The sauce, again made with a hint of yogurt, was delightful. It was high on the spicy scale, but the taste was over the top.
The fourth bowl was filled with basmati rice. To cut the spice a bit, Jennifer mixed the rice with the spinach mushroom dish, and the combination was a hit.
Saag mushroom ($11.95) was Helene's choice, and it was also on Jennifer's sampler. With spinach, mushrooms and spices, the flavors were striking. But once the heat started to kick in, Helene had trouble thoroughly enjoying it. Luckily, she had ordered a masala lassi ($3.95) ,which helped cut the heat.
Next time you're yearning for Indian cuisine, House of India is the place to go. We had a ball tasting each other's dishes, and we had so much food it wasn't surprising we all needed to-go boxes.
Traditional desserts such as mango ice cream ($3.50) or kheer (rice pudding) can tempt me when I'm not too full, but my favorite way to end the meal is with masala chai, a black tea with aromatic spices.
The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.