The Vegetarian Option: Vegetable Curries and More at Brooklyn's Bombay Masala
Takeout Indian joints are about as risky as takeout Chinese: you might end up with a delicately-spiced, not-too-greasy meal when you visit one, but more than likely what you'll get is beat-up, overcooked rice/vegetables/what-have-you drowning in orange-colored oil. I suppose it's just the nature of New York City, that in universe of good eating, not every corner spot can possibly be reliable.
Luckily for Prospect/Crown Heights dwellers, Bombay Masala, located on bustling Franklin Avenue, is the exception to the rule, offering well-seasoned, subtly flavored curries to eat atop fluffy basmati rice. And happily for vegetarians, over 20 of those curries are meat-free.
But it's a nice place for eating in as well as getting take out, with plenty of choices beyond the vegetarian standards. For one there's Chana Aloo Paneer ($8.50, pictured at top), potatoes and chickpeas cooked in a mild, creamy tomato base and topped off with chunks of mild paneer cheese. The firm potatoes and soft chickpeas got a bit of lift from ginger and turmeric, and the cheese had that simultaneously squeaky and melty texture that's common to paneer and its relative queso blanco.
Baigan bhurta ($8.25), made from a baked eggplant that's then mashed with fried onions and tomatoes, was incredibly rich and creamy. Sweet greens peas popped in every bite, their freshness temporarily distracting from the lingering heat the eggplant left on the tongue.
A good Indian meal usually benefits from some form of bread, and Bombay Masala's offerings don't disappoint. Onion Kulcha ($2.75) was soft, stretchy naan flecked with chopped onions and fresh cilantro, perfect for scooping up errant bits of rice and curry.
The one low point in the meal at Bombay Masala was, unfortunately, pretty darn low. Biryani, at its best, is a delicate dish of fluffy rice flavored with fragrant herbs spices such as nutmeg, cardamom, bay, and saffron, then folded together with a rich meat- or vegetable-based sauce. It was created in the court of the Mughal emperors, and is meant to convey luxury. Bombay Masala's Vegetable Biryani ($10.50) only conveyed ordinariness. The rice both lacked seasoning and was way too sweet with golden raisins (and possibly with added sugar); it contained a bizarre mix of undersalted, undercooked vegetables that included carrot and celery sticks, cauliflower florets, and large pieces of raw and cucumbers and onions, with nary a sauce in sight. All of this is to say: avoid the biryani.
Despite its failure with one dish, Bombay Masala is an overall solid choice for vegetarian Indian food. Stick with the delicious curries and well-made breads, and you'll have a satisfying, inexpensive meal.