Decatur’s Mirch Masala Indian restaurant can be a mixed experience, depending on when you go. Sunday evenings seem to be the unspoken family nights, when the restaurant becomes a living breathing monster. Grains of basmati rice pellet the dining room floors, thrown by tornadoes of shrieking children. Orders of additional beverages are lost in communication, and the eek factor of the bathroom (men’s at least) is on par with some of Atlanta’s dingiest watering holes.
But on other nights I have visited, the restaurant service churns along smoothly, and the sound hums at a level fit for date night.
Atmospheric changes aside, the restaurant’s North Indian cuisine is crave-worthy, if a bit too rich in some dishes due to the kitchen’s liberal use of oil.
Lamb curry ($12.95) is an example of deeply melded flavors consistent with dishes here. Chunks of tender lamb sit in a brown curry gravy aromatic of a little clove, and spicy from ground pepper. I really enjoy swabbing bubbly pieces of naan through the sauce, but its richness doesn’t allow me to move beyond a few bites.
I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t point out that the kitchen’s appetizer of chicken tikka ($9.95) is really good. At other Indian restaurants, when these bright orange chunks of chicken are plucked from the buffet or ordered from the menu (tandoori chicken is the bone-in alternative), I generally expect it to be dry and tough and I’m usually proven right. Mirch Masala’s chicken tikka, however, is consistently fall-apart tender, and a little citrus-flavored from coriander — a popular spice used in Indian cooking.
Speaking of buffets, Mirch Masala has one all day seven days a week (lunch $8.95, dinner $10.95 weekdays; $9.95/$11.95 weekends). For the optimal experience, skip it, as puffy naan will go limp and sauceless meats will go dry. The kitchen’s various versions of naan not on the buffet are all worthy, but bullet naan ($2.50) is my favorite. Minced green chilies speckle the surface of this bread providing a tolerable level of heat; perspiration slowly builds around my crown a couple of bites in.
The chilies reappear in chilli paneer ($8.95), a dish of Indian and Chinese influences, hands down my favorite. Paneer (a mild Indian cheese) chunks the size of sugar cubes are sauteed in ginger, garlic and soy sauce alongside onions and bell pepper. It’s a harmonious union.
I can get past the atmosphere at Mirch Masala when it is a miss rather than hit. The menu is vast with dishes for all palates — vegetarians, carnivores, the spice-averse and the not-so-spice-averse. If you and your family are looking for additional dining options, you should all be able to find agreeable dish combinations here.MIRCH MASALA 1713 Church St., Decatur, 30033, 404-296-9999 Food: North Indian cuisine including rice, lamb, chicken and vegetarian dishes with varying degree of spiciness. Service: Inconsistent, depending on how busy the place is. Communication can be an issue. Best dishes: Chicken tikka, chilli paneer (spicy cheese stir fry), baigan bharta(roasted crushed eggplant). Vegetarian selections: A variety of vegetable appetizers, vegetable dishes in curry gravy and rice dishes.