Rule No. 1 for new restaurant owners: Don't install a coat rack when you still have customers in your dining room, especially if it involves drilling and hammering. Even if it is 8 o'clock on a Sunday night, and even if there is only one table occupied. Someone at that table might be a restaurant critic.
It was too bad, because up to that point our dinner at the Indian Pavilion had gone very smoothly.
This is a fine new Indian restaurant and cocktail lounge in what would be a desolate location except for the University of Maryland complex nearby. It provides a steady stream of lunch customers, but nights are quiet. I suppose if the owners hold on till baseball season that will change -- although maybe Baltimoreans aren't quite ready to precede an Orioles game with lamb vindaloo.
Right now, though, you'll find plenty of free parking at dinner time, a normally quiet and pretty dining room, good food and excellent service (at least if you get our moonlighting dental student as your waiter).
With three levels done in pale pink and aqua, lots of glass and a staircase that looks as if it belongs on board a ship, the Indian Pavilion doesn't resemble your traditional Indian restaurant. But the food is authentic and not adulterated for sissy Western palates.
I happen to own one of those sissy Western palates; but I can still appreciate the tantalizing flavors of cardamom, cilantro, ginger and other spices I can't begin to identify. The kitchen blends flavors smoothly in a complex medley, so no one stands out. But individual sauces still taste quite different from one another.
In the Indian Pavilion's butter chicken, for instance, smoky strips of boneless chicken grilled in the tandoor oven are sauced with fresh tomatoes and cream. It's more intensely tomato-y and less creamy than some versions, but very appealing.
You might balance it with the seductive pleasures of a dish called bharta, in which roasted eggplant is mashed to a smooth texture, sauteed with other vegetables and intriguingly spiced.
Seafood vindaloo has plenty of heat, but the chunks of fresh salmon, clams and shrimp can stand up to it. Fork-tender lamb with creamy spinach is moderately spiced enough to be a pleasing contrast (for those sharing dishes).
In fact, everything we tried -- from a smooth and assertively fiery mulligatawny (lentil) soup to the sweet carrot pudding for dessert -- was excellent.
The Indian Pavilion's only problem (other than the installation of the coat rack, and how often can that happen?) is that it is one more good Indian restaurant in a downtown full of good Indian restaurants.
I'm not sure if enough people will decide to go here rather than the Cafe Bombay, the Bombay Grill, Akbar, Mughal Garden or Banjara; and that's too bad. It's a nice little restaurant.
Where: 635 W. Pratt St.
Hours: Open every day for lunch and dinner
Prices: Appetizers: $2.95-$5.95, entrees: $6.95-$12.50; major credit cards
Call: (410) 752-5700
Pub Date: 12/15/96