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Restaurant Review: Royal Karma Lives Up to Its Name

Mar 10, 2017 10:40AM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Mary Lou Baker // Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.

Royal KarmaIndian Cuisine

302 Harry S. Truman, Parkway, Suite K, Annapolis. 410-266-5006. Featuring Northern Indian and Indo-Chinese cuisine. Open daily. Lunch buffet ($10.95) daily11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner Mon-Thur 5-10 p.m., Fri-Sat 5-11 p.m., Sun 5-10 p.m. Appetizers/soups/salads: $5-$9; entrees: most under $20. Reservations accepted. Gluten-free menu. Major credit cards accepted; handicapped accessible; ample parking.
Welcome to Royal Karma, the newest of three Indian restaurants in Annapolis. When you go, expect to be treated like royalty from the moment you arrive at this tastefully decorated establishment in a small strip mall just off Riva Road. Mâitre d’ Cajeten keeps an eye on the door and races to open it for arriving guests, pairing the gesture with welcoming words as he leads them into the dining room where two majestic chandeliers sparkle overhead.

On our weeknight review visit, the 40-seat restaurant was not crowded, the ambience was serene, and service was solicitous and swift. A handsome bar area with cushioned stools faces a series of big-screen TV’s and backlit bottles of high-end spirits. Décor is sleek, black-and-white with one wall painted apricot defining the lunch-only buffet area, space divided into an area facing a wall of windows etched with a drawing of the Taj Mahal, and a more intimate back room decorated with a framed print of Buddha.

The menu is a veritable dictionary of dishes from Northern India, with palate-provoking flavors of garlic, ginger, cumin, bay leaves, cilantro and the subtle undertones of cinnamon and cloves. This is healthy cooking with lots of choices for vegetarian diners. You will appreciate the help of your server in making selections from nearly 100 choices with names unfamiliar to most of us.

“Please ask your server to make your food to your preferred level of spiciness from 1-10,” is the message on the front of the menu, with a note that all the food is gluten free. We found level 5 to be about right for one in our party of three and too tame for the others. The vegetarian among us started with a lemon cilantro soup, a clear broth that shouted cilantro and an odd taste from a sprinkling of mango powder.
Two of us shared the Chef’s Special Kabob Platter, wheeled smoking hot to our table on a serving cart. Piled high on a gold-edged porcelain plate and giving off wonderful aromas were shrimp, chicken, and minced lamb—some grilled and some from the restaurant’s special clay tandoori oven. Three small dishes of dipping sauces—red peppers pulverized with vinegar, honeyed tamarind, and a pungent cilantro—added interest to an impressive sampling of what the kitchen can do.

A mind-boggling selection of entrees at Royal Karma challenge the diner’s decision-making capabilities, although provided descriptions of each dish are helpful and servers stand ready to advise. There is a category for vegetarian dishes, another featuring charcoal-grilled chicken, shrimp and lamb chops, and a choice of seafood, chicken, lamb, or goat prepared with Indian sauces. The hard-to-please vegetarian among us gave high marks to the colorful mix of cauliflower, broccoli, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and mushrooms—still tender after cooking in the tandoori oven.

Lamb-lovers will be hard-pressed to choose from a dozen different preparations of their favorite meat—from simply grilled chops to more sophisticated recipes calling for Indian sauces. One of us followed the lead of our server, opting for Lamb Mazedar—chunks of lamb blanketed in a yogurt sauce reddened with paprika and a blend of spices. It was a flavorful combination, leaving him eager to make a return visit to try the goat curry. His choice of spiciness or “heat” on the diner’s scale was seven and that was “just right.”

From multiple-choice chicken dishes, we picked Chicken Korma Kashmiri, cubes of white meat simmered to tenderness in a slightly sweet yogurt sauce flecked with bits of fruit and nuts. It partnered well with the nutty basmati rice that we spooned onto our respective dinner plates as a savory bed for the saucy lamb and chicken dishes. Naan, or flatbread slapped against the sides of the tandoori oven, is a beloved specialty of Indian meals, and at Royal Karma is available unadorned or stuffed with a variety of fillings. I recommend an assorted bread basket to share.

After full-on feasting, we shared the restaurant’s creamy rice pudding prepared with milk, nuts, saffron, and dried fruits—a soothing finale to the richness of our meal. Service of each course was measured and we appreciated the sensitive attentions of the staff. Patrons of Royal Karma leave feeling like part of a culture whose cuisine and customs merit more attention.

Mary Lou Baker is a frequent contributor to What’s Up? Media publications and self-professed gourmand. She has authored numerous culinary articles and recently penned the book Seafood Lover’s Chesapeake Bay: Restaurants, Markets, Recipes & Traditions.

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