Passage To India – A Journey Interrupted But Still Worth Taking
By The BaldOne
Passage To India burst unexpectedly onto the Salem restaurant scene some years ago along with a loud and gregarious Scotsman who insisted that it was just what we needed.
Hugh Kerr was right. We had pub food, some Irish fare, Italian eateries, Chinese and Thai, with a smattering of Japanese, and lots of basic American places. Indian cuisine had been missing
Hugh is gone now, and certainly missed, but Passage To India endures.
When they first opened their food was new to those who didn’t travel to Boston or make a quick trip up to Route One. Masala, saag, tandoori, and naan were new words for us. They drew, and still draw a loyal crowd of Marblehead and Swampscott types, but they made their bones by introducing local Salem types to the joy of peppery Poppadoms and the different levels of vindaloo (hot in Indian cuisine and only for the bold).
A visit about six months ago proved to be a disappointment for various reasons. We at Salem Food Digest are always reluctant to let a single bad experience rule our emotions and conclusions. We ate our meal, drank a couple of Flying Horse Lagers and determined to return at a later date. After all, we all have our bad days.
That later date came to pass recently. We stopped in on a week night, had a seat at the original bar, ordered a Flying Horse at $6.95 and took a look at the offerings. The menu presented us with the first problem. There has been little variation in the menu over the years. They may have added a few items, but not many. It is not unusual for the “Special” to remain unchanged for six months or more.The decision was made to order Garlic Naan at $3.95. This is unleavened white flour baked bread stuffed with garlic. You can also get naan with onion, chicken, or a blend of raisins, cashews, and coconut. We missed the basil naan which used to be a standard.
Our entree choice was the Mixed Tandoori Grill at $16.95 consisting of chicken, salmon, and shrimp. Tandoori is basically the Indian version of Barbecue. The meats are cooked in a charcoal oven made of clay. It creates its own unique smoky flavor. It also seals in the juices. The dish comes with basmati rice and peppers and onions served on a steaming steel plate
They started us with complimentary Poppadom which is thin, crispy and quite peppery wafer that you dip in an onion chutney. Beware the wafer as the level of pepper can vary from time to time. For us the more peppery the better.
When the Tandoori arrived we initially experienced some disappointment as the portions seemed quite a bit smaller what we recalled in the past. We also noticed that the dish no longer has lamb in it. We understand that one way to keep prices down is to cut portions, but we would happily pay another $5 for the portions of old with the lamb.
The smaller portions seemed also to be a little bit less moist than we remembered. Nevertheless it was still good enough to enjoy, but the difference from previous experiences was enough to create conversation.
On the weekend they open up a second bar with a small dining room called The Passage Lounge. It is slightly different experience and gets you away from the busy take-out activity. Annie tends bar on Fridays and Saturdays. Be sure to say hello from us.
Overall we found the experience to be satisfactory, but it doesn’t come close to measuring up to previous visits. We will be back, but not until we have tried another Indian place or two in the north shore area.