Bay Hill Plaza, the little strip mall on Turkey Lake Road in South Orlando, is turning into a mini World Showcase of international restaurants. There’s an Italian restaurant and market, Red Bamboo Vietnamese, A Taste of Japan, with sushi and other Japanese dinners, and 1-6-8 Chinese.
Also among the cosmopolitan collection is Memories of India, which has managed to pack an entire nation of flavors, textures and spices into a small but comfortable space. The food here is as good as any of the other fine Indian restaurants we’re lucky to have in the area, but the owners of MOI haven’t yet found it necessary to over-inflate the prices.
The menu takes favorite dishes from the various states of India and puts them together in a collection that is so enticing that just choosing one entree is too difficult.
One of my favorites among the many entrees was the chicken saagwala ($11.95), which featured tender chunks of chicken breast meat plus potatoes in a creamy curry made of spinach and spices. Even with the potatoes in the dish, rice is served as a vessel for carrying the meat and sauce. I just love getting double the starch, especially when it’s this good.
The rice, of course, is fluffy basmati rice, whose name means “queen of fragrance.” Basmati rice has a perfumery aroma and a nutty taste, and it’s generally cooked with a clove or two in the mix.
I also liked the lamb vindaloo ($12.95), cubes of lamb marinated in a vinegary gravy and cooked with potatoes and pearl onions in freshly ground spices. The vinegar marinade plus the pickled onions gave the dish a pungent flavor. The spice blend made it fiery hot. Vindaloos are the hottest of the Indian curry dishes.
By the way, I ordered all the spicy dishes medium-hot and found them to be plenty high on the heat scale. If you’re more timid, ask for the spicy dishes to be cooked mild. If you’ve got a death wish, go all the way.
Not all Indian dishes are hot and spicy. Take, for example, the delicious lamb korma ($12.95), which had the meat with green bell peppers, almonds and raisins in a milder, creamier gravy. Heavenly with some rice and some naan to soak up the sauce.
There are several vegetarian specialties on the menu. I sampled the aloo gobhi ($9.95), with big chunks of potatoes and cauliflowerets cooked in curry spices with onions and ginger. Meat was not missed.
Memories of India also features tandoori-cooked entrees, meats and fish roasted in a clay oven about three-feet deep. I went for the works and ordered the Bombay House mixed grill ($17.95), which included chicken -- both the traditional red tandoori and marinated tikka varieties – lamb and shrimp. All the meats were moist and juicy, and they had plenty of flavor from the yogurt marinade. They were served with a mild curry and came with garlic naan, a flatbread topped with lots of fresh garlic. The naans are cooked by slapping the dough on the side of the oven wall, so they come out with a charred crust. Inside, however, the bread is soft and perfect for scooping.
For appetizers I recommend the nawabi lukme, or assorted platter ($8). This will get you plenty to sample, including samosas filled with potatoes and peas, pakoras dipped in chickpea batter and deep-fried, and lamb sheekh kabob, minced lamb grilled over charcoal. It all came with a chutney made with coriander, a pea-green dipping sauce that added a wonderful dimension to the meats.
For some reason a salad is included with the entrees, even though a salad course isn’t a traditional part of Indian meals. The simple plate of lettuce was drizzled with a creamy garlic dressing that was a little too strong. Stick with appetizers.
At meal’s end, there’s rice kheer ($2.95), a rice pudding with milk sugar, nuts and raisins, and handmade mango ice cream ($2.95), with a rich, pasty texture.
Service was affable and helpful. Wine and beer are available, including some Indian favorites.
The space, which was previously occupied by the now-defunct Lagniappe Cafe, is small but it has been tastefully decorated with wallpaper and wooden plaques depicting scenes of Indian peasant life. (The Shaq booth is no more.)
The lighting is subdued (except when the setting sun blares through the front door) and traditional Indian music plays quietly in the background. Seating is at tables and booths that are covered with white and pink cloths, topped with glass.
Memories of India is a delightful restaurant, one with delicious food and a pleasant staff. Even if our travels have not taken you to Asia, you’re sure to leave here with some fond memories of your own.