An Authentic Review Of Marshall Street's "Samrat"
You brag about what you could do with the large assortment of ingredients if you were the one in a black Food Services apron with colored vegetables in one hand and a blunt knife in the other. The funny thing is, this point in your life occurs punctually when the only thing more broke than your wallet are your cooking skills. As soon as you pass this point and your wallet has revitalized, you sprint away from the mushy strawberries and hurtle down to Marshall Street, and for once, shy away from Chipotle and Calios. And that’s when you run into Samrat.
Teetering on the shady edge of Marshall Street, Samrat Indian Restaurant is the place to go if you’re becoming too familiar with the rice from Chipotle. One floor above a hookah bar and two floors above the corner shop that underage alcoholics worship, this restaurant goes a long way in a short-term fulfillment of an Indian’s taste-bud requirements.
Roti made of foreign flour? Check. Curry that looks sufficiently crimson? Check. Punjabi host trying to deal with people who think he doesn’t understand English? Check. And these were only observations from the first ten minutes.
As an Indian, I obviously always walk in with higher expectations than the next American. I also walk in with a calculator, ready to do some serious currency conversions. After all, what is dinner without complaints to Indian friends about paying three times the price for a dish that’s five times more delicious made at home? (Not an Indian enough dinner, that’s what.) So when I walked into Samrat for the first time with my parents after five days of eating bread and leaves, the three of us were pumped as hell and ready to do some serious math. On a scale of one to ten, I’d give Samrat a solid shrug.
The Music: It does have the traditional Eastern-Arabic music vibe going on, so that people can easily mistake it for being Indian. In its defense, it gets hold of actual Bollywood music from time to time and tosses in the Sufi instrumentals.
The Lighting: Yellow enough to give the impression of the good old Indian sun shining down on your rotis. It’s a sweet trick to break up with the Syracuse chill for a while. It also takes away the need for extra filters on your usual food porn Instagram rituals.
The Décor: This was bang-on. It has the whole suburban-Indian, warm Saturday afternoon joint family retreat to your Aunt’s place for a lunch feast vibe going on. Mirrored hangings on soft pink walls, vibrant maps for tablemats (so you eat and learn), and the few examples of traditional art they could get their hands on – go with a few friends and you can learn what an Indian family gathering (minus the creepy uncle) ideally looks like.
The Food: Ah, it’s shrug time. Consistency is the ingredient missing from Samrat’s dishes. The first time I went with my parents, everything was nice and heartwarming (although that may have been due to homesickness). The soup was hot, the Dal was yellow, the Palak Paneer was green and in summation, all the Subzis were colour-coded as they should be. The last time I went, my tomato soup was cold by the time it travelled from the buffet table to my table. I had mixed feelings about the Mixed Vegetable Curry and felt that as an estimate, 50-70% of the flavor was there. This dismissive sentiment of “the food is acceptable, overall,” was shared by the rest of the company at the table. But who knows how the food would be the next time? Thanks to inconsistency.
Another strange thing I noticed was they had ranch dressing next to the syrups and curd for salad and the samosas… what? What kind of Indian food are you guys putting ranch sauce on? It’s weird. Don’t do it.
The Host: A giant redeeming factor. The host is friendly as can be, beyond the call of duty. He makes sure you’re having a good time, strikes up a good conversation and keeps the energy going. Granted, this should be the case for any host, but doing this in a land brimming with a different culture deserves a special mention.
Like I said, if you have $13 ($15 if you enjoy some good Chicken Tikka and Lamb Curry) and you’re giving the rest of Marshall Street’s eateries the silent treatment, Samrat is the place to head to for some different flavors, which you’ll definitely get, especially if you’re not going with extremely picky taste buds. And if you’re lucky enough, the soup might be hot, but don’t take my word for it.