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June 24, 2010


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Sultan: Indian food near Hill is fit for a king


If you periodically check some of the many restaurant blogs, as I do, you’re probably afraid to eat at any restaurant. I guess it’s human nature that people who are upset with an experience are much more motivated to vent their feelings to others than those who have a pleasant experience. As a result, even the best restaurants in the area are trashed by some of the anonymous bloggers. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a blogger accusing a restaurant of serving salmonella tablets for lunch.

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that Sultan, a seven-year-old Indian BYOB restaurant in North Wales, is the only restaurant I’ve checked on that has received nothing but positive reviews from bloggers. I have literally read at least two dozen “reviews” from area diners, and every single one was positive. That is almost like picking up shells on the beach, and every one has a pearl in it.

Sultan (which means “king” in South Asia) is located in the Montgomery Commons Shopping Center, 1200 Welsh Rd. (Route 63), about one mile past the intersection of Routes 63 and 202 and about two miles west of the intersection of Routes 63 and 309, at the end of the Route 309 Expressway. (It’s about 15 minutes from the Top of the Hill.)

•For example, “Mallory P. of Philadelphia” wrote to yelp.com on Feb. 15 of this year: “I had plans to go to Sultan with a friend on a Saturday. That Friday, I got a stomach bug that pretty much killed me. But my friend was so in love with the food at Sultan that I had been looking forward to it so much that I made myself go, regardless of my sensitive stomach.
It was awesome. It was really, truly awesome. I stuffed myself with all kinds of paneer and naan, and when it was time to go, I was afraid to move. I went home and pretty much died all over again, but it was worth it. I’m eager to go back. Mmmmm.”

•“Joanna C. of North Wales” wrote to yelp.com on Feb. 14 of this year: “Hard to believe I have this awesome Indian restaurant almost in my back yard. Food is awesome, portions are huge, and everyone is so nice there. I wish they did half portions so I wouldn’t have to order two entrees to get my veggies, but I have had leftovers for three or more meals! So it’s way worth it.”

•“Indian food lover” wrote to Citysearch.com on Nov. 14 of last year: “I’ve been going to Sultan for a couple of years now, and I can’t say enough good things about it. I’ve had plenty of genuine Indian cuisine in America as well as in India, and this food is as close as you can get. Delicious! The pros are the service, food and owner. The cons are none. Everything is fantastic.”

The owners of Sultan are Satwant Singh, 32, whose family was in the banquet business in his native India, and his wife, Reenu Taheem, 29, who managed Palace of Asia in Fort Washington for eight years when it was owned by her father, Devinder Singh. (Her father and husband have the same last name because all men in the Sikh religion take the last name Singh, which means “lion.” Sikhism is a religion founded about 1500 in the Punjab region of India which is characterized by its worship of one deity and its allegiance to sacred scriptures, among other beliefs.)

The owners, who live in Oreland, took over management of Sultan in July of 2007 and in short order made a dramatic improvement in the property’s appearance. A drab, rundown interior was brightened considerably by new carpets, reupholstered chairs, new curtains from India, new mirrors and Indian artwork, a new paint job and spruced up chandeliers, a beautiful Indian elephant statue in the front that looks like a sentinel standing guard over the customers, etc.

The restaurant can seat 100 people and is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. A huge magnet at lunch time is the all-you-can-eat buffet, an extraordinary bargain at $8.95 on weekdays and $9.95 on weekends; another is the fact that Sultan is BYOB. They also do both on-premises and off-premises catering, having catered parties in the restaurant for as many as 100 and outdoor gatherings for as many as 350 (an Indian wedding reception).

According to the owners, there is a sizable Indian population within a few square miles of the restaurant, and their clientele has been about 50 percent American and 50 percent Indian. (During our most recent visit in mid-April, most of the customers were Indian.) “Some Americans are fearful of the spiciness of some Indian food,” said Satwant, “but my experience has been that once Americans try it, they love it and can’t wait to have it again. And, of course, we can adjust the spiciness in any dish according to a customer’s taste.”

Since every region of India brings its own distinctive dishes and subtle variations of popular dishes, fragrant, pungent spices must be delicately blended in specific proportions to create the dishes. The blending and preparation of spices is a centuries-old craft that is indispensable to fine Indian cuisine.

It is the inclusion of one ingredient, chilies, which makes the food “hot.” By toning down the use of chilies, as well as some of the richer ingredients, Sultan offers recipes that are gentler but retain the flavor, aroma and texture for which Indian cuisine is rightfully renowned. Sultan is not only pleasing to the palate, but a healthful alternative as well, owing largely to the use of a variety of vegetables and leaner meats.

Our favorite dishes at Sultan were the chicken reshmi-kabob, a sublime chef’s special that comes out sizzling on a hot plate with onions, scallions and other goodies ($10.95); shrimp curry cooked with fresh ginger and garlic in a divine, lightly spiced sauce ($16.95); and bhagari, tilapia delicately tickled with peanut, coconut, cashew nuts and sesame seed sauce ($15.95). The portions are so large that you’re bound to wind up with leftovers to take home. (One of our dinner companions, Karen Anderson, a nurse from West Mt. Airy, said, “This is the best Indian food I have ever had.”)

And there are not many finer things under heaven than fresh Indian breads baked in a clay oven. They are as velvety and flavorful as the law allows, and they are not merely a palate cleanser but also canvases on which to paint a palette of condiments such as the sweet tamarind sauce, mango chutney or mint sauce. This is like hosting a party in your mouth. Some of the breads are naan, white bread baked in a clay oven ($2.25); paratha, whole wheat layered flat bread ($2.95); onion kulcha, unleavened bread stuffed with onions and green peppers ($3.25), and tandoori roti, round-shaped whole wheat bread ($2.25).

Sultan has traditional Indian desserts such as kulfi, Indian ice cream ($3.25), and gulab jamun, milk puffs deep-fried and soaked in a sweet syrup ($2.95)

For more information or reservations, call 215-393-5555 or visit sultaninphilly.com. You may bring your own wine or beer, and there is no corkage fee.


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