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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    Review: All hail the Curry Queen of Old Saybrook

    Paneer Tikka Masala (Marisa Nadolny)
    Vegetarian Samosas (Marisa Nadolny)

    We don’t do monarchies here in the U.S., but one could be convinced to defend the honor of the Curry Queen in Old Saybrook.

    Of course, it takes more than one strong leader to run such a stellar kitchen, so consider Her Majesty as more of a concept that aims to bring the many and varied flavors of the Indian diaspora to lucky subjects in Connecticut.

    While several items on the menu will look familiar to Indian-cuisine regulars, just know that you will experience them anew at Curry Queen. For example, vegetarian samosas are fairly ubiquitous in the region, but CQ’s ($8) stood out in a few ways: First, they’re quite big. Second, the bright and almost citrusy spice mix within the potato filling created layers of palate-pleasing flavor not often found elsewhere.

    We also found a few new (to us) discoveries that will remain in our rotation and further elongate our list of Must-Get Dishes for Next Time.

    Among them, the Ginger Chicken ($18; comes with rice), which sounds basic but is anything but. In this dish, incredibly tender, savory chicken meets with a bright and flavorful sauce of ginger root, curried veggies and fresh tomato. The many flavors make for a great, layered dish, and we particularly enjoyed the overall ginger zest. Recommended.

    Another first for us was Paneer Tikka Masala ($20), which includes ingredients we have tried and enjoyed in other dishes like Chicken Tikka Masala and Mattar Paneer — bonus! Well, the combination of paneer — a fresh acid-set cheese made from full-fat buffalo milk or cow milk–and tikka masala curry was outstanding, and we’ve never sampled such tasty paneer before. I like paneer pretty much across the board, but CQ’s offered unexpected and delightful nuance that sang in perfect harmony with the traditional and equally enjoyable sauce of spices, cream and tomato.

    With each new dish we sampled, we kept revising our MVP choice. The mister declared the Peeli (Yellow) Daal Tadka ($15) the big winner, and I can see his point. (The Paneer TIkka Masala is the dish to beat for me.) That said, the Peeli Daal Tadka — a stew of yellow lentils — is an excellent choice that will be most welcome come real autumn weather for a few reasons. Among the dish’s ingredients are garam masala, mango powder, turmeric and tomato; so, you’ve got a vibrant mix of warming spices perfect for cooler weather and bright, citrusy notes remnant of summer. An underlying roasty flavor underscored all of the above in our batch, which elevated the experience even more.

    The perfectly prepped rice is a fantastic accompaniment to all of the above, but consider sampling the naan ($4) and using it as a scoop. CQ’s naan is thinner than some we’ve seen elsewhere, but the flavor is more complex than most and complementary to anything upon it.

    We also must order a mango lassi when we go out for Indian food and grabbed one to share from CQ. (It’s filling.) Be aware that CQ’s mango lassi carried stronger notes of what I believe is cardamom, a not-shy spice with bold flavor. I like my lassi to be mango-forward, so CQ’s took a little adjustment for me. Still, it was a refreshing concoction with much-needed nutrients after a bout of seasonal sniffles.

    It won’t be easy, but try and save room for dessert, because Curry Queen has a handful of post-dinner delights available. Next time, we’re going to try the Queen’s Rice Pudding, but the Gulab Jamun ($15) we ordered is hereby recommended. These little confections are made with milk solids and flour and served in a syrup flavored with rosewater and spices. They resemble doughnut holes, but don’t let their size deceive you. There is a lot of milky density there and it’s all quite delicious and rather filling, but a perfect sweet treat to end a great meal.

    So yes, we enjoyed everything we tried at Curry Queen, and we challenge anyone to find something quibble-worthy. But if you don’t want to take my word for it, consider this: Jacques Pepin attended the official ribbon cutting at the Curry Queen over the summer and was an early fan of the Queen’s fare. He seems to know a thing or two about food, and it was lovely to see him endorse what is going to be the next hot spot on the shoreline foodie scene.

    The Curry Queen

    93 Elm St, Old Saybrook

    (860) 510-9803


    Cuisine: Traditional and regional Indian cuisine

    Atmosphere: Casual dining in a cozy space with several tables and booths and an inviting stone fireplace. The well-run takeout operation is managed from its own space next door.

    Service: Very good

    Hours: Wednesday through Monday, 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.; 4:30 - 8:30 p.m. Closed Tuesdays

    Prices: Not cheap, but the quality is worth it. Dinner entrees run from about $15 to $24. Small starter plates at dinner run from $8 to $18 (for Tandoor prawns). Note: Prices vary between the lunch and dinner menus, so we assume the portions reflect the difference. For example, the Paneer Tikka Masala is $20 on the dinner menu and $14 for the lunch version.

    Credit cards: Accepted

    Accessibility: No steps to enter, spacious interior, parking area is very close to the building

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