March 18, 2010 at 1:00 am

Molly Abraham: Restaurant Review

Mazza Indian Cuisine provides flavorful authenticity in a comfortable setting

Mazza Indian Cuisine in Berkley replaced Passage to India. )

Many of those who love the complex fare of India don't really care whether they find it in a modest storefront or in more upscale surroundings. It's the aromatic cuisine they're after.

Still, it's gratifying to find upholstered chairs, tables double-covered in linen, and soft lights along with well-prepared and nicely served tandoori chicken, lamb curry and mulligatawny soup.

And that's what diners are discovering at Mazza Indian Cuisine (formerly Passage to India), the month-old restaurant in Berkley, where co-proprietor and chef Abdul Noor and Razur Rahman, the building's owner, have completely restored the place from top to bottom.

Now, those driving along 12 Mile can glimpse the handsome dining room through the clear glass of uncovered front windows. The artwork and chairs are original to the space, but the room has a fresh look, with Venetian plastered walls in shades of ivory and soft gold, and minaret-shaped cutouts inset with colorful 16th-century Mughal folk art, hand-painted on fabric.

Chef Noor, who was born of Arabic heritage in what he describes as British India, learned his trade in London. His menu skims the vast Indian repertoire, and the food that comes from his kitchen is varied and flavorful, spiced with blends of freshly ground spices tailored to each dish.

His light and well-balanced mulligatawny soup is outstanding. It's a blend of lentils and fresh lemon sparked with black pepper, garlic, ginger and a touch of tomato. (Note that it is available only at dinner.)

The soup is among his signature dishes, which include chicken tikka masala, chunks of chicken breast cooked in a creamy yogurt, raisin and almond sauce, and lamb pall, a stewlike dish that includes tomatoes and green peppers and has an assertive spiciness just under the top level of vindaloo.

The fare also includes a few Persian dishes, such as chicken and lamb Dansak, typified by lentil curry sauces that are sweet, sour and slightly hot at the same time.

Vegetarian selections are notable. Some can be ordered as main dishes and others in smaller portions as accompaniments, and these include a refreshing saag bhaji (chopped fresh spinach cooked with onions and garlic), and gobi bhaji (subtly spicy cauliflower with tomatoes and green peppers).

Dishes from the newly installed tandoor (clay oven) include an especially good mixed grill of chicken, lamb and shrimp at the top of the reasonable price structure.

Several varieties of naan -- the puffy bread -- also come from the tandoor, and they are an integral part of an Indian meal, as is the Basmati rice that comes with most main dishes. Biryani (rice) dishes are accompanied by vegetable curry.

Service by a staff in crisp white dress shirts and black trousers is courteous and helpful.

Razur Rahman says he wants Mazza (pronounced Mah-Zah, meaning delicious or tasty) to be a tribute to his late father, Tunur Rahman, who built and named Passage to India in the mid-80's but then leased it to others who eventually let it go downhill.

It's going in another direction now.

Abraham67@comcast.net">Abraham67@comcast.net (313) 222-1475

Chicken tikka masala is one of many spicy, flavorful Indian dishes by chef ... (Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News)
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