by LEN LEAR
A few years ago, while we were having lunch at Sultan, a 10-year-old Indian BYOB restaurant in North Wales, a gentleman having lunch at the next table with several friends ambled over and began issuing an unsolicited testimonial. He had noticed the fact that I was asking questions of the manager and writing down the answers in a reporter’s notebook.
He asked what newspaper we were with, and I said, “The Chestnut Hill Local.” The 40-ish gentleman proceeded to identify himself as Vijay Tammara, adding that he and his luncheon companions worked for the nearby Merck Pharmaceutical Corp.
“I’m from South India,” he said, “and I can tell you that before the new owners took over this restaurant, it was not very good. But I have eaten here four times so far — this is my second time here this week — and the change is dramatic. The quality of the food is excellent, the customer service is very good, and the variety is outstanding.
“I told them at the beginning that if they have high-quality food and service, they will succeed, and that is exactly what they have done. And they treat you like family. They’ll come over to the table regularly and ask how you are doing. Naturally, since I am from India, I want to have a restaurant in the area that serves outstanding Indian food, and now we have one.”
Sultan (which means “king” in South Asia) is located in the Montgomery Commons Shopping Center, 1200 Welsh Rd. (Route 63), about one mile past the intersection of Routes 63 and 202 and about two miles west of the intersection of Routes 63 and 309, at the end of the Route 309 Expressway. (It’s about 15 minutes from the Top of the Hill.)
In February of this year Sultan again changed hands. Two of the new owners have strong Chestnut Hill connections; Managing partner John Lawrence previously worked for Paul Roller and later had his own Indian foods concession in the Chestnut Hill Farmers Market from 2004 to 2011, and investor/partner Ritesh Nautiyal is also a tennis pro at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. Jose Gonzalez Heres is also an investor/partner, and beverage manager Gerard Woel was an assistant lacrosse coach at Chestnut Hill Academy and now also teaches martial arts in the Chestnut Hill area.
The restaurant can seat 100 people and is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. So far they have been busier at lunch time during the week and at night time on weekends. A huge magnet at lunch time is the all-you-can-eat buffet with 20 to 25 items ($9.95 on weekdays and $10.95 on weekends); another is the fact that Sultan is BYOB. They also do both on-premises and off-premises catering. Another is the fact that they offer, believe it or not, complimentary “Mumbai mango margaritas” with dinner.
According to the owners, there is a sizable Indian population within a few square miles of the restaurant, and their clientele has been about 50 percent American and 50 percent Indian. Some Americans are fearful of the spiciness of some Indian food, but of course the chefs can adjust the spiciness in any dish according to a customer’s taste. The executive chef is Surender Kumar, who for eight years was the chef at Palace of Asia in Fort Washington.
Since every region of India brings its own distinctive dishes and subtle variations of popular dishes, fragrant, pungent spices must be delicately blended in specific proportions to create the dishes. The blending and preparation of spices is a centuries-old craft that is indispensable to fine Indian cuisine.
By toning down the use of chilies, as well as some of the richer ingredients, Sultan offers recipes that are gentler but retain the flavor, aroma and texture for which Indian cuisine is rightfully renowned. Sultan is not only pleasing to the palate, but a healthful alternative as well, owing largely to the use of a variety of vegetables and leaner meats.
Our favorite appetizer was the sublime “murg tawi” special for two, which is marinated chunks of chicken baked in a clay oven and sauteed with green pepper, fresh tomato, onion and hints of lemon ($10.95), and our favorite entree was the shrimp vindaloo — lots of plump crustaceans prepared in an incendiary sauce ($15.95). We also enjoyed the chicken tikka masala — tender boneless pieces of chicken baked in the clay oven, then cooked in a tasty tomato onion and cream sauce ($13.95). In addition to dozens of beef, chicken and seafood dishes, there are lots of vegetarian options to choose from.
And there are not many finer things under heaven than fresh Indian breads baked in a clay oven. They are as velvety and flavorful as the law allows, and they are not merely a palate cleanser but also canvases on which to paint a palette of condiments such as the sweet tamarind sauce or the mint sauce. This is like hosting a party in your mouth. Some of the breads are naan, white bread baked in a clay oven ($1.95); paratha, whole wheat layered flat bread ($2.50); onion kulcha, unleavened bread stuffed with onions and green peppers ($2.95), and tandoori roti, round-shaped whole wheat bread ($1.95).
Sultan has traditional Indian desserts such as kulfi, Indian ice cream ($4), and gulab jamun, milk puffs deep-fried and soaked in a sweet syrup ($3).
For more information or reservations, call 267-847-7604 or visit www.sultancuisine.com You may bring your own wine or beer, and there is no corkage fee. To contact Len Lear, call 215-248-8807 or email firstname.lastname@example.org