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San Diego Restaurant Reviews

   Star of India

a Retreat for Mind and Body
By Amy Covington

Like a perfectly paired cheese and wine, Indian spices work in tandem to bring harmony to your taste buds. Good Indian chefs are skilled choreographers, synchronizing complimentary flavors, allowing the star of the show‹the main ingredient to shine.

The culinary artisans at the Star of India in Del Mar have mastered this delicate dance, creating uniquely flavorful dishes that will make you a regular customer.

The Star of India menu features the best of Indian cuisine, which has gained in popularity. Even though Indian restaurants have crept in the San Diegan subconscious, it has remained relatively ambiguous to most novice diners. A millennia old culture, Indian cuisine has inevitably adopted dietary traditions and cooking methods from foreign influences.

Long a vegetarian society, they evolved to incorporate some meat into their diet, although Indian cooks respect Muslim and Hindi beliefs, which prohibit beef and pork consumption. You will find marinated and spicy lamb dishes, as well as memorable chicken and seafood.

Muslims from Asia introduced some of the most notable dishes. They brought leavened bread and the tandoor cooking method. Indian rotis were merged with leavened breads to make Tandoori naans, a well known appetizer or entrée accompaniment. Kebabs and pilafs made their Indian debut and the notion of ending dinner with a dessert gained popularity via Muslim influence.

When thinking of Indian food, many people automatically think of curry, kebabs, and tandoori chicken.

Granted, many of the food names are difficult to pronounce for most native Westerners, so sticking by what they know is a safe bet, but mere intimidation should not prevent anyone from trying something new on the menu now and then. At Star of India, the knowledgeable and patient staff help diners make educated dinner selections.

An important thing to know about Indian cuisine is the "curry powder" found in the grocery store aisle is actually a combination of spices, and that in reality there are dozens of curry styles and spice combinations. In India, curry is an English word that means gravy. Traditionally, many curries contain chile pepper, cloves, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, ginger turmeric and nutmeg, among other spices.

Despite the numerous spices involved in Indian cooking, the finished product arrives perfectly balanced. At Star of India, the menu boasts plentiful, harmonious options, whether you choose chicken, lamb, seafood or a vegetarian dish. Some options include the chicken tikka masala, which according to the owner (Jack, who frequently visits the restaurant, making sure his patrons get the best dining experience), is the most frequently ordered item.

With good reason this dish is a favorite, tender boneless chicken breast roasted in a clay oven and cooked with a blend of creamy tomato curry and spices will leave you craving more. Other options include lamb Rogan Josh, boneless lamb cooked with spicy curry sauce with onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and aromatic spices; and Bengan Bhartha, eggplant roasted in a clay oven with peas, onions, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes and served with or without cream.

Once you¹ve tried a few new dishes, the "tried-and-true" are available as a fall-back choice they are, after all, tried-and-true for a reason. Star of India makes a wide selection of kebabs, including chicken tikka, seekh (minced lamb mixed with exotic spices and herbs); booti (boneless lamb cubes); and fish. If you can't make up your mind, try the mixed Tandoori grill, which includes a taste of all their kebab choices.

Now, this is where it can get a little overwhelming. Remember when I said there are dozens of curries? Star of India offers six different meat curry options, including korma (vegetables, cream, cashews, nuts, raisins and spices); coconut delight (a blend of coconut, cream, curry and exotic spices); Saag (fresh spinach, broccoli, green onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and spices); Jalfrazie (sautéed vegetables, onions, garlic, ginger, fresh tomato sauce and curry); Masala (spicy curry of onions, garlic ginger, tomatoes and spices); Vindaloo (spicy tangy tomato and curry sauce cooked with fresh herbs and cubed potatoes), plus several vegetarian curries from which to choose.

An admitted beginner when I entered Star of India, I was markedly more knowledgeable upon the completion of my surprisingly delicate meal. Star of India's owner, Jack, so graciously guided my meal courses, first recommending the veggie samosa, two lightly fried pastries (think phyllo), stuffed with peas, potatoes and spices.

What I found surprising about my dining experience was that even after eating a good portion of food with a rich sauce containing lots of spices, I walked away feeling content, instead of floating away, regretful of my overindulgence. This was not by luck, but by design. Many Indian spices have curative properties that help prevent gastrointestinal upsets and aid digestion. From the soothing, tranquil atmosphere flavored by exotic music to the succulent entrees, dining at Star of India truly is a harmonious experience for mind and body.


                                                                                                                                   Photos by John Leonffu




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