IN THE KITCHEN The kitchen at Spice Box, a new Indian and pizza restaurant in Lexington, is presided over by chef-owners (and nephew-uncle) Harkamaljit “Chef Laddi” Singh and Shingara Singh. Shingara, who goes by the moniker “Chef Peppino,” was born in India and lived with an Italian family in Germany for many years. Both chefs have helmed other dining establishments in the area and “have great experience, a long history in cooking, and are making delicious food,” said Jaspal Nagi, a partner at the restaurant.
THE LOCALE Spice Box opened in August in a small plaza on Marrett Road at the intersection of Waltham Street; the location previously housed a pizza-and-subs shop. The walls are adorned with colorful murals of vegetables and hot peppers, a fitting nod to the restaurant’s name. The space is simple but bright; at lunchtime, the daily buffet winds through the center of the dining room. The restaurant offers takeout and catering services in addition to dine-in.
ON THE MENU In some respects, the menu features a what’s what of better-known Indian cookery. There’s chicken tikka masala ($14), tandoori-grilled white-meat chicken prepared with tomatoes and spices in a light cream sauce; Kashmiri rogan josh ($16), lamb cooked in yogurt and a blend of traditional Kashmir spices; and shrimp korma ($18) shrimp prepared with cashews in a creamy saffron sauce.
Yet not every dish is quite so familiar, even to those who may feel reasonably well-versed in Indian cuisine. The lunch buffet ($11 on weekdays, $14 on weekends) is a marvelous way to introduce yourself to new recipes and flavors — and no buffet is the same twice. “Every day we have different items and varieties,” Nagi said.
Our visit starts with a trio of soups — tomato-based vegetable shorba, lentil, and coconut — before moving on to the main courses, featuring a nice mix of meat-based and vegetarian dishes, as well as several options for a non-dairy eater.
We pile our plates high with Goa-style boneless white-meat chicken prepared with mustard seeds and coconut in garlic- and ginger-spiced curry. Aloo Manchurian offers a spicy, Indo-Chinese take on fried potatoes. Kalonji baingan, roasted eggplant showered with cilantro, has a welcomingly tangy taste and oven-blistered skin. There are several vegetarian curries, including Gobi matar, spiced cauliflower, and peas; Punjabi kadhi, a northern Indian specialty that dunks crispy, fried vegetable pakora in a creamy yogurt sauce; and matar paneer, cheese cubes cooked in a spicy, creamy, tomato curry. Idli, a spongy rice-and-lentil disk, wonderfully soaks up the surrounding sauces on the plate, as does naan bread. For a sweet finish, beetroot halwa spliced with sugar and spices is a revelation.
Especially given the restaurant’s name, we’re pleased to find Spice Box leans into some heat, with several buffet offerings leaving a fiery aftertaste. The dishes also have a light touch; several cream-based curries leave us satisfied, not stuffed.
And let’s not forget something that makes Spice Box’s menu particularly unique — pizza. Yes, there are Italian standbys like pepperoni, margherita, and sausage and mushrooms, but more intriguing are Indian fusion pizzas. Two slices and a soda sets you back a mere $6, so I couldn’t resist the chicken tikka pizza to go. Rather than tomato sauce, it uses the chef’s homemade masala sauce as its base, topped with marinated tandoori chicken, red onion, fresh garlic, ginger, and cilantro. It’s delicious — consider me a convert to Indian-inspired pizza. There’s also a paneer tikka pizza, and one with a base of mashed cauliflower, green peppers, carrots, and peas covered in mozzarella and red onion finished with lemon juice. All range from $13 to $20, and I expect to be back to try more.
Spice Box, 321 Marrett Road, Lexington, 781-538-5870, www.spiceboxlexington.com.Rachel Lebeaux can be reached at [email protected].