Sambol (Eagan, MN)
By Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
India is home to a huge variety of cultures and cuisines, and they all have their unique tastes. But in this country, most Indian restaurants tend to have similar menus. If you've eaten at a few, you've learned that kormas are creamy and not spicy, rogan josh dishes are medium and vindaloos are hot. You know that biryani is a seasoned rice dish and tikka masala is tomato-based. But far too often the tastes blend together, and it seems as if the only difference between Indian restaurants is the time it takes to get to one or another.
Sambol has a treat in store for you. Not only are most of the dishes more unique and flavorful than you're used to, but also you'll find delicious Sri Lankan menu items that you've never heard of before.
The vindaloo is the best we've had in the Twin Cities. This is a dish some kitchens pride themselves on making inedibly hot, but here it's just intensely flavored. We liked it with lamb.
The lamb shahi korma, with cashews, raisins and chunks of cheese in a buttery sauce, was even better.
Even the quite mild biryani was livened up with a strong cardamom flavor. We liked it with shrimp, but you can order it with chicken, lamb or vegetables.
We especially appreciated the Sri Lankan specialties. There are only a few of them, but they're worth finding and ordering. The deviled beef, for example, is a delicious stew with bell peppers, tomatoes, onions and a quite spicy sauce. And the curry is delicious.
Sambol also serves dosas, a southern Indian speciality. These are crispy crepes with different fillings. The masala dosa is best, especially when shared with a group. You'll probably want something more substantial as your entree.
You can specify your spice level when you order. The results seem to be calibrated to the dish. At medium, the vindaloo had a good heat, but not so hot that it was inedible. But the chana masala, ordered at the same medium level, was quite mild. A hot dosa has chili peppers mixed in, which the more timid at our table removed. And the mild dishes were still flavorful, but with less heat.
Order some mango chutney for your table. Its sweetness is a good counterpoint to the heat of many dishes. The spicy mixed pickles are salty and an acquired taste. Taj Mahal beer goes great with spicy food, as does a mango lassi. But if you order the latter, ask for it without any added sugar.
There are some glitches. The appetizers are uniformly forgettable and often don't taste fresh. The chickpea dish, chana masala, was flat in comparison to the other dishes on the table. And the palak paneer, that Indian staple made with spinach and cheese, was lifeless. But those are just minor hiccups from an otherwise wonderful kitchen.
Everything comes with rice, but we suggest you ignore it and order bread. The nans are all tasty, and perfect for sopping up the delicious sauces. And at the end of the meal, when all you have left is bread and sauce, marvel at how different all the dishes taste. Sambol has a great range; try it to experience the varied range of Indian cooking.
If You Go
Location: 1260 Town Centre Drive, Eagan
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