A hankering for Indian food and a coincidental suggestion from a friend recently led me to Darbar located on Aliceanna St in the heart of Fells Point. Just shy of one year in business (opened in April 2011), this quaint restaurant is slowly picking up momentum as the newest and best in traditional Indian cuisine in Baltimore.
It’s pretty hard to overlook Darbar while driving on Aliceanna St; it’s oddly located in the middle of a residential neighborhood and the exterior resembles a city storefront more than a restaurant. Colorful holiday lights and bright white spotlights border the windows at the front entrance of the restaurant, however once inside, the lights are dim and the mood was subdued, an immense difference from the outer appearance of the restaurant. Traditional Indian artwork adorns the walls and pristine white tablecloths are neatly draped on every table beneath properly placed silverware and glassware. The restaurant has two main dining areas, one larger than the other, separated by a single large arch doorway.
The hostess greets my party of two at the door and we are escorted to the larger, more populated dining area and seated in a quiet corner. Our waiter dressed in formal black pants, white top, and a bowtie, strikes a match to light the dinner candle in the center of our table. As I looked around I noticed pairs of patrons and I understand why… low lights + candles = romance. The waiter quickly brings out the complimentary papadums served hot with an assortment of tamarind chutney, mint chutney, and onion chutney. Papadums, for those who may not know, is a thin wafer-like flatbread with the texture of a cracker. The papadums was very colorful with visible sesame seeds and grains fried into the dough, this makes for a healthy texture and compliment to anchor the chutney. The tamarind chutney was especially delicious with its red color and unique sweet & sour flavor; often called “ketchup of the east” it gave a tangy kick to the papadums and reminded me of a slightly upscale version of chips and salsa.
On to the main course, we stuck with the basics of Middle Eastern cuisine and ordered naan ($3.95) curry shrimp ($14.95), and chicken tikka masala ($14.95) served with rice and peas. The curry shrimp was the correct consistency of spicy; enough spice to please my palette, but not too spicy or overpowering. The highlight of my meal was definitely the chicken tikka masala, this dish absolutely blew my mind – it was just that good. The tikka masala sauce had a smooth buttery sweet flavor that reminded me of southern cooking or comfort food. Not all Indian restaurants make their sauce that sweet, but I personally enjoyed it. The servings were very large, enough for myself and my friend to eat and still have leftovers to take home.
The service our waiter provided was great, and management also checked in on our table to confirm the dining experience was going well. As we left Darbar around 9:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night, the dining area was full of patrons and that’s certainly a good sign that this restaurant is doing something right.