6079 Sherbrooke W. Vendôme métro. Bus 105
Tel. 488-8850. Monday to Saturday, 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday, 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. $35 for two before beer, taxes and service. Table d'hôte: $5.95$9.95 (noon); $25.95$29.95 (evening, for two people).
When is Indian food not Indian food? When it's Bangladeshi food. Yes, there's a difference. If they serve beef, they're from Bangladesh. If they don't, they're from India. It's not a hard and fast rule, but in Montreal, you can pretty much swear by it. At Ganges, theres not a beef dish in sight.
In Montreal, the range of dishes on the menu at most Indian restaurants is not huge, and menus don't vary too much from restaurant to restaurant. Ganges is a typical example of a Montreal Indian restaurant: cooking in the London-curry style without too many surprises. Still, even within this narrow repertoire a lot of things can go wrong, and when they do, it's easy to tell. A sauce that's used as the base for two or more dishes; indifferent spicing; overcooked rice; overblown prices.
So it's good to come upon a restaurant like Ganges, which manages to convey the essence of good Indian cooking with an eye for freshness, at very moderate prices.
Ganges is on a sleepy part of Sherbrooke in N.D.G. Its a fairly upscale interior with burgundy tablecloths, Indian mythological paintings on the wall and a pukka bar in the corner. It even has a semicircular throne-like dais at one end of the inner room, where theres sometimes live Indian music.
The menu runs through the usual gamut: tandoori dishes of chicken, shrimp and lamb, fish curries and masalas (mainly shrimp and scallops), a large selection of chicken and lamb curries and a surprisingly large vegetarian selection. Everything on the menu is under $13 with most dishes falling in the $8-10 range. There is takeout and a specially-priced lunch menu.
An appetizer of dal soup was remarkably light, with bits of carrot, lentils, green onion and fresh cilantro floating in a clear broth with a nice touch of a thin slice of lemon floating on top.
An order of pakoras (deep fried fritters filled with cauliflower, cabbage and other vegetables) came hot, crispy and deliciously moist, but best of all, grease-free. Potato-filled samosas also were crisply fresh and hot, obviously not reheated from frozen in an oven, as is the practice elsewhere.
When asked for the spiciest dish on the menu, the waiter suggested Chicken Madras. Another of the party asked for the least spicy, and was offered the vegetable curry. Its good for you, admonished the solicitous server.
The palao rice was as good as it gets at an Indian resto in Montreal: fluffy and hot with bits of saffron and cardamom topped with crispy onion slivers. The Chicken Madras, served in a sauce dish, was thick and full of pieces of hot, moist chicken, but was not even close to the spiciness that the waiter had promised. This is good news for the timid, but if you want heat youd better insist on it. The vegetarian curry was even milder, but also redolent with fresh flavors; in fact, everything we tasted was remarkably fresh-tasting and greaselessa rarity for a Montreal Indian restaurant.
A Newcastle ale was served ice-cold in a hearty mug, just the way you want it when scarfing down a spicy meal. The best thing of all, though, was the price: we were out of there for less than $35 for two, with beer for two and taxes but not tip.Reviewed by Nicholas Robinson