Décor is elegant but austere, but what it lacks in warmth it makes up for with enticingly complex, aromatic flavors in everything from curries to biryani rice dishes to tandoori plates. Want heat? Ask for at least a “5” on the “1” to “10” scalable spice level (1 is practically imperceptible and 10 requires the fire-extinguishing properties of the just-sweet mango lassi, $3.95). Al Hamra also offers a collection of crisp Indian lagers to cool the palate, as well as a full bar and a handful of California wines.
Papadum is on the menu for $3, but a plate of the lentil wafers arrives soon after seating, with two chutneys: a thin, vibrant jalapeño/mint/cilantro and a thick, sweet tamarind. Other appetizers include vegetarian samosa pastries ($6.95) and several pakoras, including surprisingly tender chicken ($7.95), five nuggets lightly battered with spiced gram (chickpea) flour served with carrot slaw.Naan is thick, chewy and blistered from the tandoor oven, and while the unapologetic garlic naan ($3.50) is my favorite, I had no trouble devouring the roasted sweet onion or the toasted sesame seed naans ($3 each).
Prices reflect the ZIP code, so don’t expect bargains. Do expect flawlessly cooked tandoori prawns (10 pieces for $19.95), with swirling flavors of cumin, garlic and ginger, accompanied by an eye-catching dome of fragrant basmati rice.
Chicken tikka masala ($17.95) is bowl-lickingly terrific, but the rich, spiced yogurt gravy sports a miserly amount of chicken. Likewise, the dark, oniony lamb vindaloo ($18.95) is deliciously complicated with hints of mustard, ginger, clove and cinnamon but few pieces of the fork-tender lamb. Chicken curry ($16.95) sounds nondescript, but the tomato-cumin-garlic-ginger stew is brilliant and, yes, skimpy on the chicken, too.
Despite meager proteins in some dishes, I’m impressed with Al Hamra’s deft use of seasonings. It’s the intricate layers of flavor that draw me to Indian food, and Al Hamra clearly has a detailed map of the spice route.
Indian desserts are delicate by design, created to cool and soothe the palate after the double-barrel spice assault from the main meal. Al Hamra’s two desserts ($3.95 each) get the job done as well as any: gulab jamun (two milk dumplings soaked in rose water-tinged honey) and kheer (rice pudding with golden raisins, sprinkled with coconut dust). Or, skip dessert and let the tingling tickle of spice linger on your tongue.
Address: 8900 E. Pinnacle Peak Road, Scottsdale
Hours: 4 p.m.-10 p.m. daily
Highlights: Garlic naan ($3.50), chicken curry ($16.95), lamb vindaloo ($18.95), tandoori prawns ($19.95), mango lassi ($3.95), rice pudding ($3.95)
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