A contemporary Indian experience in Quincy Center
1237 Hancock St., Quincy
Lunch: Monday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 12:30 to 3 p.m.
Dinner: Daily, 3 to 10 p.m.
Accepts American Express, Mastercard, Visa, and Discover
As Quincy Center gears up for a $1.6 billion redevelopment, Sher-A-Punjab has timed its opening on Hancock Street well. The restaurant brings what it calls “modern Indian” cuisine — updates on dishes it says you will not find anywhere else.
Seated on prime real estate across from the Quincy Center T station, Sher-A-Punjab takes over the space formerly occupied by Blue 22 Bar & Grille. Its warm caramel hues and dim lighting could set the mood for an evening date, though there were more families with young children than couples.
Like many Indian restaurants, each table is started off with papadums, wafers made of lentils. For dipping, there are the usual tomato and onion, mint and cilantro, and tamarind sauces.
Those tamarind and mint sauces also accompanied our chicken pakora appetizer ($5). The chicken did not sit heavily on the stomach the way deep-fried foods often do, and its chickpea and cumin batter gave the meat a crisp coating. The plate included a small salad that was good, but the dressing tasted like a standard creamy American one, with no hint of Indian influences.
The naan apricot date ($4) was our favorite single item. The flatbread was served hot, and the dried fruits inside were sweet and warm, giving them an almost jammy consistency.
My lamb shank curry ($15) was braised in a saffron and red onion gravy, and the long cooking time rendered it meltingly tender. The chicken tikka masala ($13), the professed favorite of many Indian food lovers in the United States, is cooked tandoori-style and served in a tomato and cream sauce. This version had an unexpected smokiness that gave it more depth. A shared plate of basmati rice accompanied the entrées.
The waiter had asked if we wanted each entrée mild or medium in spiciness, and we erred on the side of caution, only to taste no heat. I made a mental note to upgrade to medium next time for that slight kick.
The restaurant was half full on a Thursday evening, and service was prompt and polite. The attentiveness was consistent when I returned on a Sunday afternoon. During lunch hours, a buffet is also available, but I opted to order off the menu again.
This time, it was the chat papri ($5) that impressed. The appetizer of spiced potatoes with fried wheat wafers in a yogurt sauce is served as street fare in India. The chunks of potato, crunchy wafers, and cucumbers created a contrast of textures, while the yogurt sauce with cilantro was sweet and tangy.
The pista coconut naan ($4) was filled with crushed pistachios and coconut flakes. It didn’t delight as much as the naan apricot date, but it was pleasantly hot and buttery, though light on coconut and pistachio flavor.
My beef coconut curry ($13) was all right, but the delicate coconut and mustard seed couldn’t stand up to the more assertive beef. The medium level of spice was perfect this time, however. The palak paneer ($11), fresh spinach cooked in cream with homemade cheese, was not a favorite; its flavors were muddled together so no one stood out.
But the ras malai ($4), homemade cheese patties in a milk syrup topped with crushed almonds and pistachios, made up for that. The sweetened cheese had the consistency of ricotta, and the syrup was fragrantly scented with rosewater.
When asked what distinguishes Sher-A-Punjab from other Indian restaurants — and Quincy has another — co-owner Mandeep Singh pointed to the “modern Indian” menu. The dishes incorporate some current culinary trends in India as well as some Western influences, he said.
“There are things on our menu you can’t find at other Indian restaurants,” Singh said. “You can only find them here.” He listed mango chicken, mustard lamb rack chops, paneer tikka, and the naan apricot date among them, saying the recipes are the chef’s unique creations.
The restaurant’s name means tiger of Punjab, a northern state in India from which Singh and his cousin Kashmir Singh hail.
Kashmir Singh, chef and co-owner, has wanted to cook since childhood, he said through his cousin, who translated from Punjabi. He trained in India and has worked at a Cambridge restaurant, which he declined to name. These days, Kashmir said, he conjures up new dishes rather than rely just on his early days, and has his kitchen staff taste and provide feedback.
Mandeep Singh had helped manage restaurants for his father in India, and Sher-A-Punjab is his first American venture. He said he went door to door visiting offices in Quincy Center, gauging interest for his business. People wanted an Indian restaurant, he said, and a place where they could sit down and enjoy lunch.
He said the restaurant’s entertainment also sets it apart. Karaoke nights start at 10 on Thursdays. There is a bar with full liquor, and the restaurant can seat up to 75.
Sher-A-Punjab also delivers, and I’ll be reaching for that menu often.