Put it in your mouth

If you like Indian food but grow tired of the bad sitar music and other tired clich퀌�s found in most Middle Eastern restaurants, you may find the Bombay Cricket Club to be a welcome change of pace.

The restaurant, located at 1925 S.E. Hawthorne, may be the only place in town where you can sit back and watch your favorite team bowl a jaffer or bat a century while enjoying some tasty Middle Eastern-influenced Indian cuisine.

The Cricket Club’s no-frills decor (accented by a large-screen television that plays recordings of cricket matches and highlight reels all night long) gives the place an unpretentious atmosphere that eschews the typical Indian restaurant shtick.

It’s best to call ahead for reservations, especially on the weekends, unless you are okay with waiting outside for up to 45 minutes to be seated (there’s no comfortable indoor waiting area, and the bar is often populated with single diners).

The restaurant’s small two-story space with an open loft looming over the first floor bar can feel a bit cramped, especially as the dinner crowed peaks around 7 p.m.

Don’t plan on bringing more than three of your friends with you, as the small space doesn’t lend itself well to large groups. Some tables are a crammed a little too close to the walls and corners, which can make it difficult to come and go without having a close encounter with the people sitting next to you.

Much of the food offerings match the low-key atmosphere. Some dishes can be too subtly spiced and come off as bland but, when it works, they can reach that divine happy medium between simple and complex. There’s a wide variety of vegetarian options, as well as several kinds of meat to choose from, even goat when it’s available.

The appetizers are the most hit-or-miss part of the menu – the meat samosas are bland and greasy – but there are a few gems to found. The vegetarian samosas easily outclass their meat counterparts, especially if you pile on the tamarind chutney, and the more Middle Eastern tinged offerings, such as the chaat (chilled garbanzo bean salad) add a broad range of flavors to the menu.

Entree prices ($10 – $17) range slightly higher than the average college student’s dinner budget, but are comparable to other Indian offerings around town. The Club’s unique and carefully crafted cuisine, however, is well worth the extra couple bucks it will cost you.

The tangy lamb vindaloo, with its tender chunks of lamb and potato in a tangy sauce is tasty, but I was disappointed that the staff talked me down to “medium plus” from my original request of “hot” on the spiciness scale, only to receive a dish with barely any perceptible heat.

The staff, although very friendly, seems wary of the ability of their guests to handle spiciness, but it pays to be persistent. Most of the entr퀌�es are better with a little kick to them, as the heat provides a nice counterpart to the sweet and tangy flavors found in many of the sauces.

All of the restaurant’s dishes that are cooked in their tandoori oven are also worth giving a try, as the traditional clay oven imparts a grilled flavor to meats while preserving it’s tender juiciness. The chicken makhani, with its subtly spiced cream sauce particularly stands out in this category.

Be sure to get plenty of piping hot garlic naan (Indian flatbread), always a perfect way to sop up the leftover sauce. Also, don’t forget to heap on the basmati rice (which comes with most entr퀌�es), deliciously perfumed with a combination of cardamom, cloves, and saffron.

The Cricket Club has a full bar, a selection of Indian beers (try the Kingfisher) and a small but well-chosen wine list. The highlight on the beverage menu, however, is the ever-popular “mango-rita” ($6), a margarita-like concoction of tequila, lime and mango puree, which provides the perfect match to the exotic flavors and spiciness found in Indian cuisine.

For those more inclined towards softer drinks, the mango lassi (a yogurt-based drink) will both quench your thirst and help to “tame the flame” if you get spicy food.

Between its unique atmosphere, exotic flavors and thirst-quenching beverages, if you find you have a sudden urge to take in a few overs of the legendary India-New Zealand test match, there’s only one thing to put in your mouth, and that is the Bombay Cricket Club.