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posted: 3/13/2013 6:00 AM

Vibrant, value-priced Indian cuisine entices diners at Peacock in Vernon Hills

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  • Peacock's Vegetarian Delight contains boldly flavored items that appeal to omnivores as well.

       Peacock's Vegetarian Delight contains boldly flavored items that appeal to omnivores as well.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Sev Batata Puri is featured on the Mumbai bistro menu at Peacock Indian Restaurant in Vernon Hills.

       Sev Batata Puri is featured on the Mumbai bistro menu at Peacock Indian Restaurant in Vernon Hills.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Besides the traditional buffet, Peacock Indian Restaurant offers a large a la carte menu.

       Besides the traditional buffet, Peacock Indian Restaurant offers a large a la carte menu.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Peacock's Vegetarian Delight contains boldly flavored items that appeal to omnivores as well.

       Peacock's Vegetarian Delight contains boldly flavored items that appeal to omnivores as well.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • The flavorful dishes at Peacock Indian Restaurant in Vernon Hills more than make up for the subtle interior.

       The flavorful dishes at Peacock Indian Restaurant in Vernon Hills more than make up for the subtle interior.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • A namesake peacock overlooks the dining room at Peacock Indian Restaurant.

       A namesake peacock overlooks the dining room at Peacock Indian Restaurant.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Peacock Indian Restaurant is located in a strip mall in Vernon Hills.

       Peacock Indian Restaurant is located in a strip mall in Vernon Hills.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
By Carolyn Walkup
Daily Herald Correspondent

Fans of Indian food would not go wrong by visiting, or revisiting, the venerable 22-year-old Peacock Indian Restaurant, which does a commendable job of executing its extensive menu.

Its unobtrusive location at 700 N. Milwaukee Ave., Vernon Hills, in the mall anchored by Dick's Sporting Goods, is worth seeking out for its value-priced food that can transport diners with good imaginations to India. In addition to its vast luncheon buffet, Peacock has a large a la carte menu at both lunch and dinner.

The atmosphere is rather plain with only hints of India through some subtle artwork, but the food proved to be the star attraction. We enjoyed the recorded Hindi music playing at conversation-friendly volume.

The newest addition to its offerings is a five-item "Mumbai bistro menu" that is Peacock's interpretation of Indian street food. Most of the items are deep-fried and include potatoes. The small laminated menu does not translate the listings into English, which indicated to me that this menu is intended primarily for Indian customers who want something quick to go, as has become popular in Mumbai and elsewhere.

Our personable and knowledgeable waiter, Sanjay, gladly answered our questions about the food. We began with two of the bistro items to start. Both arrived together after a short wait.

The sev batata puri was an attractive presentation of five miniature crispy flour wafers topped with mashed potato, mint chutney, tamarind, onion and green chile, served cold. This dish seemed fairly elegant, not what I would classify as "fast food."

Main ingredients of the samosa chaat were crunchy flash-fried, breaded whole garbanzo beans, green peas, potatoes and hot green chiles. We asked for a side dish of whipped yogurt that helped moderate the heat level of both items.

Condiments with the above were small bowls of tamarind sauce and mint chutney with onion and green chile peppers. They can be added to almost any dish, we were told.

Moving on to the main menu, we ordered several entrees to share, all of which arrived at once, presenting us with a veritable feast. Perhaps we should have requested having the food served in courses, but it didn't matter that much.

As in most Indian restaurants I've visited locally, this one features a section of tandoori items, mostly chicken and a few other meats, grilled on skewers at high heat in a rounded-top clay and brick oven. We narrowed our ordering decision to the boti lamb kebabs, which arrived on a sizzling platter, fragrant with mysterious spices and marinades. Delicious!

An a la carte portion of sesame naan, the puffy and slightly browned unleavened bread also made on the tandoor, was a wonderful accompaniment to all of the foods. This buttery version, which also contained chopped chives and cilantro mixed into the dough, was one of 14 variations on the naan menu.

From the curry section, we chose the fish curry, which on this night was mahi mahi in a creamy sauce with the slightly sweet taste of coconut. Served over fluffy basmati rice, this dish is a winner.

The vegetarian in our dinner group ordered the Vegetarian Delight platter, an assortment of many dishes including a black lentil soup; ricotta-like cheese with green peas in an onion and cream gravy; a mixture of nine vegetables; and a samosa filled with potato and peas. The sampler pleased even the non-vegetarians in our group, even though we could not identify all of the ingredients. The platter came with basmati rice, naan and raita, a yogurt pudding with cucumber, tomato and carrot that helped to cool the palate between bites of the spicier dishes. A side order of spiced, mashed eggplant sautéed with onions and tomatoes was especially flavorful.

Learning the subtleties of the many Indian spices and herbs that flavored our food could require taking a class from an expert. Conversely, dining more often at Indian restaurants like this one and asking more questions of the staff is a fun way to learn.

For beverages, we ordered a bottle of California Sauvignon Blanc from the small wine list, which paired well with the spicy assortment of foods. Nonalcoholic choices include mango lassi, a refreshing, chilled yogurt drink resembling a milk shake, and chai tea with milk, British-style.

For our final taste, we split a mango ice cream, which was more like a mango ice. It definitely had the desired effect of cooling our palates.

All in all, we had an excellent meal and would recommend Peacock to Indian food lovers of all stripes, from vegetarians to carnivores.

Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.

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