Ever heard of India’s Red Fort? Me neither. But with the help of Google, I learned that what is called the Red Fort was originally built as the palace fort of Shahjahanabad – the new capital of the fifth Mughal Emperor of India, Shah Jahan. It got its name from the formidable walls that enclose the Red Fort complex, made of red sandstone.
What prompted me to dig into a bit of the history of the Red Fort in India was the recent opening of Red Fort Cuisine of India restaurant in Layton. It’s a terrific addition to the independent dining scene in there, in the space that was previously home to Marie Callender’s (good riddance). There’s nary a trace of the former chain eatery, which has been transformed into a relaxed but pleasant restaurant which has been quite busy since opening, the word having gotten out that you can find authentic Indian fare in Layton.
The lineage is too complex to go into here in depth, but the Red Fort restaurant in Layton – there is also a Red Fort in St. George – is owned and operated by Shamsheer Singh and Wahid Noori. It was Ajmer Singh, along with Daniel Shanthakumar and Harpal Toor who originally opened Bombay House in SLC – one of the first Indian restaurants in our region. So, there’s a solid pedigree behind Red Fort Indian Cuisine of Layton. And, judging from customer reviews online, folks are loving the food at Red Fort. One person – who lived in Africa and India – said it was “the best East Indian food” he’d had in Utah. I can attest, also, to Red Fort providing some of the friendliest and most professional service I’ve encountered in a while.
The menu is pretty typical of Indian eateries in America. There are tandoori selections, curries – chicken, lamb, seafood and vegetable – biryanis, Indian flatbreads, and, at Red Fort, a large selection of vegetarian entrees, plus desserts. On our first visit, my wife and I shared an appetizer order of Chicken Pakora ($6.95). It was a plate of four boneless chicken tenders which were seasoned and dipped in chickpea batter, then deep-fried and served on a bed of shredded cabbage with tamarind and mint chutneys. There is also a vegetable version of pakora with mixed veggies, as well as a Vegetable Samosa ($4.95) on the appetizer menu: potatoes, green peas and spiced, wrapped in a homemade flour pastry dough and deep-fried. The samosa also comes with mint and tamarind chutneys.
There are lots of choices for chicken lovers at Red Fort, including Mango Chicken, Chicken Coconut Kurma, Chicken Makhani, Chicken Tikka Masala, Chicken Curry, Pineapple Chicken, and a few others. My wife really loves the spinach-based dishes called saag in Indian restaurants, so she ordered Chicken Saag ($15.95), which was excellent. It was boneless chicken morsels cooked in a heavenly stew of spinach, garlic, cream, spices, ginger and onion. The restaurant also serves lamb saag, saag paneer (with homemade cheese), and saag aloo (potatoes). All of the curries and other entrees come with a generous portion of perfectly cooked basmati rice.
There are a trio of tandoori dishes on the Red Fort menu: Chicken Tikka ($16.95), Chicken Tandoori ($15.95), and Shrimp Tandoori ($19.95). The main difference between the Chicken Tikka and Chicken Tandoori is that tikka is made with boneless chicken breast and chicken tandoori is boneless thigh meat. I should have read the menu more closely because I ordered Chicken Tandoori and was expecting whole, bone-in chicken thighs, cooked in the clay tanoor oven. Instead I got a very hot plate of boneless thigh pieces that were marinated in yogurt with garlic, ginger and other spices, then grilled on a skewer in the tandoor. It came to the table sort of fajitas-style, on a sizzling hot plate with sauteed onions and peppers and basmati rice. The flavor was good, but I’d have preferred the more traditional whole chicken parts, nicely charred in the tandoor.
It helps to have bread to scoop up some of the sauces and curries and to enjoy with bite-size pieces of tandoori, and Red Fort has the standard lineup of Indian flatbreads: Naan ($2.50), Garlic Naan ($2.95), Peshawari Naan ($4.95) stuffed with coconut, raisins and cashews, and Tandoori Roti ($2.50), which is whole wheat bread baked in the tandoor. The Naan at Red Fort is outstanding – a large teardrop-shaped white flatbread nicely charred in the tandoor and drizzled with oil. Although it’s not bread, technically, we also really like the Papadum ($3.50), which are thin and crispy gluten-free wafers made from lentil flour and flavored with cumin seeds and black pepper, also baked in the tandoor and served with chutneys for dipping.
In addition to tempting beverages such as Lassi yogurt drinks (mango, rose, strawberry), Mango Lemonade, Indian Tea & Coffee, Mango Soy Shake and others, Red Fort also serves wine and beer. The wine list surprised me, frankly, because although it’s not huge, there are some really appealing wines on it – something I don’t normally expect to find in Indian restaurants. For example, we enjoyed Aichenberg Gruner Veltliner on one of our visits. Some of the other interesting wine selections include Atlantis Txakoli from Spain, Alsatian Willm Pinot Gris, Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Château de Ribebon Bordeaux from France, and Hacienda Lopez Rioja from Spain, to name a few.
My go-to dish in Indian restaurants if it’s offered is vindaloo, a vinegary type of curry that originated in Goa and usually includes chunks of cooked potato. The vindaloo – lamb in my case – at Red Fort is very, very good. Dishes there can be made mild, medium, hot or very hot. I ordered the Lamb Vindaloo ($17.95) hot, and boy oh boy was it ever! It took a lot of basmati rice and naan to tame some of that incendiary vindaloo, but it was delicious. I can’t even imagine what the extra hot version tastes like. It was tender boneless lamb morsels and potato cooked in a fiery curry made with tomatoes, onions, garlic, vinegar, and spices including hot chilis. Another spicy dish we enjoyed was Chicken Biryani ($16.95). It doesn’t have to be spicy, but we ordered it that way: basmati rice cooked with small pieces of boneless chicken, onions, garlic, cashew nuts, raisins and spices, served with a large side portion of cucumber raita, a zesty mixture of fresh homemade yogurt with cucumber and spices.
The denizens of Davis County – especially lovers of Indian food – should consider themselves lucky that the Singh family decided to set up shop in Layton, because it’s one of the best Indian restaurants around and joins eateries like Blue Fin Sushi, Weller’s Bistro, Roosters, and Osaka in delivering excellent food, ambiance and service in a non-chain or franchise setting. We could certainly use more of those.
Culinary quote of the week: “So often these days eating Indian food passes for spirituality. I don’t meditate, I don’t pray, but I eat two samosas every day.” – Dan Bern
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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