It was inevitable that I would have to face Madge and her new hairdo. Oh, I have grown used to Madge’s eccentricities regarding her hair (among other things). I even had lunch with her and Boris at Durant’s while she was sporting a Beehive. I figured it would probably be best (and safest) if we went somewhere for dinner where Madge could put her ensemble together to complement her hair and we could have a meal and I could give her my honest take of what I thought about her becoming a platinum blonde while enjoying a meal.
After some discussion, we decided to try Jewel of the Crown, an Indian restaurant in the Scottsdale Civic Center plaza. I told Madge that I would pick her and Boris up and drive over. She was happy with that arrangement and at the appointed time, I drove up to their little home in the Loma Linda section of Phoenix and was ushered in by Boris and told to brace myself. Madge, being Madge, made her grand entrance with a red dress and high heel shoes. None of that, however, could constrain the sheer brightness of her dyed hair.
“So, Seth, honey, what do you think?” Madge inquired. There was no way out. I felt completely trapped and the crushing sensation in my chest meant I was under a lot of stress or my heart was going to explode. If I was lucky, it would be the latter.
“It suits you!” I exclaimed. And it did. Thankfully, my response was enough to appease Madge and he gave me a quick kiss on the cheek and squeezed my upper left arm with the strength of a linebacker. “I think we should get a move on for dinner.” We loaded up into the car and made our way down Indian School Road to Jewel of the Crown. We parked in the garage to the west of the main plaza area and wandered around a bit trying to find the restaurant.
After a few minutes, we stumbled upon the entrance and were cheerfully taken to a table toward the back. The interior was spacious and decorated with plenty of Indian tapestries and room dividers. As we looked at the menus, a very friendly gentleman arrived requesting our drink order. Madge and I ordered Diet Cokes ($2.00 each) and Boris had an Iced Tea ($2.00). Our server retreated to the bar to get our drinks and we spent considerable time going over the menu and debating what to have for our meal.
When our server returned, he brought our drinks along with a basket of Papadums and a couple of sauces for them. They where crisp and light and we were all pleased they were substantial in number. The tamarind-based sauce was slightly sweet but had some heat to it, which was a pleasant surprise. The cilantro-based chutney was also quite good, but it was very spicy (not a bad thing).
Our server then took our order. After a small discussion, we decided just to order family style and our appetizer selections were two orders of the Vegetable Samosas ($3.95 each), the Vegetable Pakora ($4.25) and the Cheese Pakora ($4.95). This would be followed by the Chicken Korma ($10.95), the Chicken Vindaloo ($10.95), the Mutter Aloo ($7.95), the Saag Paneer ($8.95), two orders of Garlic Naan ($2.25 each) and one order of the Puri ($1.50).
As we waited, Madge returned to the subject of her hair and how it has taken hours for the dye job and she thought it made her look younger. “Like Marilyn Monroe,” she said. I just smiled and nodded. One thing we did notice beyond Madge’s hair was the fact that the air conditioning in the restaurant was having a tough time keeping the interior cool. Due to the high, open ceiling, there just seemed to be too much space to cool and we ofter were requesting additional water or other drinks to keep ourselves comfortable.
The first appetizer brought to us was the Cheese Pakora. Seven small squares of homemade cheese had been deep fried and served with a blob of cole slaw. The squares were dense and heavy and each had an audible crunch as we cut into them with our forks. I thought they were wonderful with the subtle flavor of the cheese and the delicious batter that coated them. The addition of some of the tamarind sauce really made these shine. Madge and Boris agreed they were very good, but both had a point when they indicated they could have stood another minute or so in the fryer. The cole slaw, on the other hand, was pure window dressing as it really had no taste.
The Vegetable Samosas were next up and they were excellent. The cones contained a mixture of potatoes and peas and we were thrilled by the fact that there was a faint hint of curry that gave a wonderful flavor to the spuds and peas. They were also perfectly fried and the outer casing was crisp and hot. For these, the cilantro chutney really gave them a boost. Boris and Madge were also quite fond of these. The Chickpea stew in the middle was also a welcome addition with its creamy texture and earthy flavor.
The final appetizer was the Vegetable Pakora. These were a mixture of assorted vegetable (onions and carrots mostly) that were slivered, coated in batter and deep fried. The batter was crisp and the vegetables were tender crisp, but the taste was fairly bland. It was the general consensus that this was the weakest of the appetizers and Boris said that he would probably not order them again.
We waited about 15 minutes from the time we finished our appetizers to when our entrees started to arrive. When the Chicken Korma arrived, our noses were treated to a wonderful aroma that had us instantly salivating. Tender pieces of chicken had been mixed with cream, nuts and spices and cooked until all of the flavors melded together. I was singularly impressed with this dish because it was pure heaven on the palate. Rich, creamy, and flavorful, we were all but battling for the remainder of the sauce toward the end of the meal.
Right behind the Korma in terms of satisfaction was the Chicken Vindaloo. I loved the moistness of the chicken along with the chunks of potato that helped tame some of the heat. I was also pleased that Jewel of the Crown didn’t restrain itself on the heat. This dish was spicy and we were all sniffling a bit from the spices. That was fine by us as we all were more than happy to lap up the sauce. Delicious and addictive.
No Indian meal is complete, in my eyes, without a serving of some sort of naan, the classic Indian bread. The Garlic Naan at Jewel of the Crown was light, fluffy and piping hot. A light brushing of butter made the bread glisten, but I was somewhat disappointed that the garlic was all but missing. I could see the tiny chunks on the bread, but they added little, if any, taste. As a lover of garlic, I wanted to taste the garlic in some fashion. Madge and Boris enjoyed the bread, but agreed that it needed significantly more garlic.
The Mutter Aloo was a hit at the table. Peas and potatoes were cooked with a tomato-based sauce and the results were a wonderful side dish that was pleasant and satisfying. What really stood out was the combination of flavors that worked well in this dish. It wasn’t spicy (nor was it meant to be), but it really provided a wonderful counterpoint to the richness of the Korma and the Vindaloo. Boris declared that this was his favorite dish on the table.
I love paneer and was really anxious to try the version of Saag Paneer being offered by Jewel of the Crown. This dish of spinach, cheese and cream is usually an instant hit. However, I was less than happy with the dish this time. It simply was bland. Even some seasoning I don’t think would have helped this dish. I am not sure what went wrong in the cooking process, but even the flavor of the spinach was absent and I was left picking at the dish while it sat on my plate.
However, the disappointment of the Saag Paneer was immediately remedied by the Puri, a large oval of whole wheat bread that had been deep fried and subsequently puffed up like a football. The bread was searing hot and when I tore it open, a billow of steam escaped. I took a bite and a smile crossed my face. This didn’t need anything. The whole wheat taste was incredible and I wanted to keep this find to myself, but Madge and Boris were equally as pleased and we scarfed down the bread in seconds.
The Basmati Rice served with our meal was quite good. The fluffiness of the rice along with the fact that it was tender made it an excellent accompaniment to soak up all of the sauces we had left over.
We finished our meals and were stuffed. I had to give credit to Jewel of the Crown for their serving dishes which were like tiny chafing dishes with tea light candles keeping our food warm. I did have some concerns about the price point for the serving size, but we were satisfied with our meal which filled us up.
We requested our bill and the total was $83.16 which included tax. Service was friendly and good, but our server would occasionally get busy with other duties and lose track of time leaving us begging for more ice water due to the temperature in the restaurant.
With the exception of the Saag Paneer, I was very pleased with Jewel of the Crown. The food was top notch and the staff friendly and helpful. We all agreed that we would come back for another meal.
With our bill paid and as we were gathering our things, the conversation again turned to Madge’s hairdo. “So, Seth, honey, be honest with me,” Madge said. “What do you really think of my hairdo?”
I took a moment to gather my thoughts but knew that Madge would respect any opinion I gave her, so I told her flat out, “Madge, I think you look better as a brunette.”
Then, the air conditioner must have kicked on because the room turned icy cold.
Jewel of the Crown
7373 Scottsdale Mall
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Hours: Wednesday through Friday – 11:30 AM to 2 PM; Monday through Friday – 5 PM to 10 PM; Saturday and Sunday – 12:00 PM to 2:30 PM; 5 PM to 10 PM.
Notes: Parking is on the west side of the complex.
Alcohol: Full bar service available.