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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the May 14, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Out to Lunch: Palace of Asia

Business lunch can be a comfortable and unhurried affair

at the new Palace of Asia, recently relocated from its familiar home

in the Mercer Mall to spacious new quarters at 540 Lawrence Square

Boulevard South, off Quaker Bridge Road, in the Lawrence Square Shopping

Center.

Unremarkable on the exterior (it is set just beyond the more visible

new Rice ‘N Spice market), the long-time establishment’s new home

features a large dining room, an attractive room with bar and serving

tables, and a centrally located banquet room that comfortably seats

a party of 24.

Elephants of all kinds — in etched glass, tapestry weaving, and

ceramic — are found throughout the uncluttered new dining room.

Fittingly, presiding over the mantle is a handsome wood carving of

Lord Ganesh, the beloved, big bellied Hindu elephant god who is the

first god invoked at the beginning of a new enterprise.

The dining room’s subdued and restful interior design offers a traditional

sensibility with a contemporary feel. Designed and decorated by Koeser

Designs of Philadelphia, the room is carpeted in navy, gold, and red,

with textured walls of a clean, gray-white tone. Grand columns of

dark green veined marble are topped by ornate silver capitals. The

high ceiling opens even higher at the center of the room where a recessed

ceiling panel is painted a rich earth red. Two ornamental sculpted

silver platters rise above the room of square and round tables, of

all sizes, offering chairs and upholstered seating. This is a particularly

good match for business parties of two, three, five, and more.

On a Tuesday at 11:45 a.m. we were the earliest lunchtime arrivals,

but as the lunch hour progressed, groups of two, three, four, and

five were comfortably situated throughout the room. Particularly attractive

for business lunch purposes is the compact, easy-to-interpret lunch

menu featuring two favorite "Thali" platters (meat or vegetarian)

and a limited number of entrees, all priced under $10. Whereas Palace

of Asia’s dinner menu is known for its wide array of mildly spiced

Indian dishes, the lunch menu is a practical affair. A jug of ice

water brought to the table also expedites the process.

The Thali plates are attractive large brass platters that hold a serving

of rice at the center, surrounded by multiple indentations for small

servings of a variety of foods. Our choice, the Vegetarian Thali ($7.50)

featured aloo gobhi (a spicy cauliflower and potato stew), spinach

with panir (homemade cheese), garbanzo beans, a tasty lentil daal,

a refreshing cold raita salad of grated cucumber in yoghurt, and a

warm bread (naan). My companion chose a meat entree, the Lamb Roghan

Josh, an excellent, thick stew with ample chunks of tender lamb. We

both ate our fill of both dishes and had leftovers to spare.

With the dining room only lightly populated, service was friendly

and attentive. Comfortable and unhurried, we nonetheless chose this

lunch to be an in-and-out affair, something we accomplished within

an hour. Conversely, if your business lunch requires more time for

discussion, you probably will not be pestered if you linger at your

table.

One question that arose during this particular lunch was whether Indian

cuisine is more soporific than Yankee fare, especially when it’s enjoyed

during the middle of the day. Our party’s vote was split. My companion

felt more productive, energized by a tasty lunch. "My guess is

that an Italian lunch or a classic deep-fried Southern meal with cornbread

and `fixins’ would set me comfortably snoozing a lot more quickly

than our charming Indian luncheon," she said, later that day.

But I, who had perhaps over-indulged on the savory selection of dishes,

spent the afternoon dreaming of a marvelous perfumed south Indian

"siesta."

— Nicole Plett

Palace of Asia, 540 Lawrence Square Boulevard South, Lawrenceville,

609-689-1500. Liquor licence; all credit cards accepted. Sukhdev Kabow,

owner-chef. Www.palace-of-asia.com Lunch and dinner daily, 11:30

a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

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