Indian Dining fit for a Sultan

| February 17, 2009 | 4 Comments
  • 4 Comments

We all have our go-to, dirt cheap, hole-in-the-wall Indian spot. This is not it. And thank goodness for that. No, Sultan is doing something different here — something exciting yet familiar. Step inside and hardwood floors, sleek tableware, flattering dimmed lighting, and soothing earth-toned walls meet the eye. Meanwhile, the nose is met with scintillating aromas of spice and good things to come.

Sultan
Sultan interior

This family-run Indian restaurant differentiates itself from neighboring competitors with its classed-up ambiance and presentation, and continues the theme through its menu of updated classics. Sultan has taken traditional recipes (some passed down for generations, some inspired from street food favorites) and given them a contemporary twist, serving them up with style and finesse.

Trio of Dishes from Sultan
Trio of Dishes from Sultan

Papadum with Mango Chutney
Papadum with Mango Chutney

Chef Khadija, the matriarch of the restaurant, was formally trained in Mumbai. She uses organic ingredients whenever possible, including free-range chicken and New Zealand lamb, and freshly grinds all her spices, regularly shipped in from India. While this focus on fresh ingredients has placed Sultan into a higher price range than your typical Indian restaurant, the extra few dollars is well worth it. The quality of products and made-from-scratch effort shines through in each dish, and you are left feeling like you are eating at mom’s table… when mom is a professional chef.

Chicken Tikka Masala
Chicken Tikka Masala

Sultan’s Murgh Tawa Masala (their version of Butter Chicken, or Chicken Tikka Masala as many know this popular dish by) is the best I’ve tasted yet in the city. Incredibly rich without being too heavy, the chicken is smoky and spiced with just the right amount of heat, and the thick velvet tomato and yogurt sauce melts luxuriously in your mouth.

Garlic Naan
Garlic Naan

With every great sauce comes a need for a great sauce receptacle. Fired to order, the fluffy, fresh naan here fits the bill. The Garlic Naan is scattered with lots of fresh garlic and cilantro, and baked in a clay oven until crispy and slightly blistered on the outside, warm and chewy on the inside.

Kheema Naan
Kheema Naan

The Kheema Naan, stuffed with minced lamb meat, garlic, red onions, and fresh herbs, was savory, hearty, and would have made an excellent appetizer on its own.

Chicken Korma and Tikka Masala
Chicken Korma and Tikka Masala

Looking hindsight, it probably wasn’t the wisest decision to invite my spice-intolerant friend to this particular dinner. Nevertheless, Sultan rose to the occasion when posed with the challenge of creating a dish with no heat. That’s right, an Indian dish with no heat, but still full of flavor, is indeed possible. Our special needs Chicken Korma was created, a mild curry fragrant with turmeric, cashews and saffron, gentle enough for a baby’s palate.

Stir Fried Okra
Stir Fried Okra

The Stir Fried Okra (Bhindi Masala) was colorful and fresh. Cut into even bite-sized pieces and appetizingly bright green, the okra was sautéed with ripe tomatoes and caramelized onions. The stickiness of the okra was pleasantly present but not too pronounced. The tomatoes were heavily spiced and seasoned, and cooked down to create some intensely concentrated flavor.

Mint Chicken Tikka
Mint Chicken Tikka

The Mint Chicken Tikka featured two skewers of smoky chicken, rubbed full of mint, yogurt, and aromatic spices. Grilled so you get all those delicious bits of charred crunch, this was the best reinvention of street food I’ve seen in a long time.

Vegetarian Samosas
Vegetarian Samosas

For their take on Samosas, Sultan uses a light, crispy shell similar to eggroll wrappers rather than the traditional heavier pastry shell. Their vegetarian version is filled with a puree of potatoes and peas, and attractively presented with mint and tamarind chutneys.

Mango Lassi
Mango Lassi

If the spice is heating up a bit too much, cool down with a Mango Lassi, a smoothie made with tangy thick yogurt and ripe mango. Served in a large milkshake glass, this creamy, sweet treat was the perfect balance to all the heat from the meal.

Casual enough for a family dinner, yet classy enough for date night, Sultan’s winning combination of authentic Indian fare, dressed up presentation, and attentive service make this an oasis in a neighborhood that diners typically walk briskly by. And with lunch buffet for a mere $10.95, you can feast and still count your riches on the way out.

Sultan
340 O’Farrell St
(between Mason St & Taylor St)
San Francisco, CA 94102
415-775-1709

Hours:
Monday-Sunday, 11:30 am-2:30 pm; 5:00 pm-10:00 pm

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Category: asian food and drink, restaurants, bars, cafes, reviews, san francisco

About the Author ()

Stephanie Hua is the creator of Lick My Spoon, a place for all things delicious. So far she has learned that she very much enjoys salted caramel anything, a good soup dumpling is worth a scalded tongue, and there is no room in life for non-fat cheese and crappy chocolate. Also, a barrel of cheese balls never ends well. Stephanie has been known to choose her company based on how much they can pack it down. Ability to endure cramped quarters, sketchy back alleys, and uncharted paths to seek out that special dish is also a plus in her book. If you fit the criteria, drop a note. You’ll probably get along just fine. Stephanie's writing and photography have been featured in Fodor's Travel, Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Serious Eats, and Sundance Channel. Follow her on Facebook and @lickmyspoon.
  • Tiffany

    Craving Indian food now!!! This looks so delicious and inspires me to want to try, and make it at home. Love your blog!

  • http://www.lickmyspoon.com Stephanie

    Thanks, Tiffany! I’m craving some Indian now myself, hehe. I’ve managed to make a decent saag now, but the wonders of a solid Chicken Tikka Masala still escape me. do let me know if you find a good recipe!

  • http://www.ambrosiaquest.com Paula Maack

    Great photos, Stephanie!! What a beautiful feast!

    Thank you for sharing!

    Cheers,

    ~ Paula

  • http://lickmyspoon.com Stephanie

    Thanks, Paula! Glad you enjoyed the review :)