You never know where you might stumble upon a culinary gem such as the Indian restaurant we discovered in a neighborhood shopping center on English Creek Avenue in Egg Harbor Township.

Without the help of our GPS, my guest and I might have inadvertently passed by Bombay Indian Restaurant, tucked a few doors away from the well-known grocery store. From now on, passing by is not an option. The fragrant world of Indian fare lured us inside this small, charming eatery and left us excited about returning for more. After all, we couldn't eat everything in one visit, even though we wanted to.

For folks with little experience of this cuisine, there are two ways to choose from the menu: ask your server for recommendations or randomly pick what seems appealing. Either way, you likely will be delighted with your dishes.

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Spices such as cumin, cardamom, coriander and ginger permeate the food here, and the aromas are intoxicating. Fresh mint plays a big part as well. One thing is certain; you have to be willing to try new things to fully appreciate this rich cuisine, for instance, the complimentary papadum our server brought to the table immediately after he took our order. Papadum - an addictive, paper-thin, cracker-like flatbread made from lentil flour - accompanies every meal, along with two dips: sweet-yet-zingy tamarind chutney and fiery coriander-and-mint sauce.

The menu includes traditional specialties such as Indian breads, seafood, chicken, lamb and vegetarian entrees, plus biryanis (basmati rice with assorted ingredients) and tandoori, a method of open-fire cooking in a clay oven (typically, the main component is marinated in yogurt and a mixture of seasonings).

A delicious tandoori appetizer ($7.95) includes spiced, ground lamb and small chunks of tender, marinated boneless chicken breast called tikki (bits or pieces) on a sizzling bed of sauteed onions, peppers and carrots. We devoured it and enjoyed every bite.

From a list of fourteen different homemade breads, we went with Gobhi parantha ($4), which was wonderfully soft and scrumptious, pan-fried, whole-wheat buttered discs filled with morsels of cauliflower. Other varieties, stuffed with potatoes, onions, chicken or paneer (Indian cheese) also are available.

To cool the palate, it's a good idea to have raita ($3.75) with the main course. This recipe mixes thin, plain yogurt with finely minced cucumbers, carrots, onions and a hint of mint that offsets the pungency of robust seasonings in the various foods.

We were pleasantly surprised to find salmon fillet paired with a marvelous, smooth eggplant sauce in the Bangali fish masala ($17.95). The perfectly-cooked fish complemented the heady masala flavor. Every once in a while, an invigorating, welcome burst of ginger surfaced in the Murg khurcan ($15.50), chicken in succulent onion sauce. However, the chicken was suspiciously similar to the tandoori chicken, only a tad drier - our only quibble. A bowl of impeccable clove-studded basmati rice accompanies all dinners, which are served family style - so you have to share.

For dessert, we split badami kheer ($4.25), a basmati rice pudding. Tuck away any preconceived notion you previously had about rice pudding. This one is unlike any American version we've had, which usually consists of thick, creamy pudding filled with very soft rice. This very sweet milky custard has the consistency of soup, and the basmati rice is firmer than what we're used to. Next time, I'll try the homemade pistachio-cashew ice cream.

A wait staff of two took care of a fairly busy dining room, greeting and seating customers, serving, bussing and delivering tantalizing platters of food to tables around us. It was obvious that many folks were repeat customers, and with good reason. The menu is reasonably priced and the service excellent. The dimly lit room, tastefully decorated with a few brilliantly hued paintings, is comfortable and warm; a place to treat your senses to an exotic culinary adventure close to home.

Bombay Indian Restaurant

3003 English Creek Ave.,

Egg Harbor Township

Phone: 609-646-4445

Hours: Open daily, Lunch 11a.m. to 3 p.m., Dinner 5 to 10 p.m.


Liquor license: BYOB

Credit cards: All major

Wheelchair access: Yes

Price range: Appetizers, $4.25 to $7.95, Entrees, $7.50 - $20.95

Our bill for two: $53.40 plus tip

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