Masala Jack’s

When someone says cheap and Indian food in the same breath, it’s usually a recipe for indigestion, if not worse. You just don’t want to play roulette with bargain-basement goat meat and lamb slathered with curry sauce. Hence my slight trepidation when BiteClubbers turned me onto Masala Jack’s which recently opened in Cotati, featuring a menu full of curries under $7–many under $5.

Instead, BiteClub found one of Europe’s largest curry chains come to America. The new Cotati restaurant (which we hear may be branching out to Santa Rosa’s downtown soon) is slick and clean, upscale Indian dining on a daal budget. Though I’ve only begun piecing the details together, it appears that Masala Jacks is an offshoot of Masala Jak’s–a popular Indian restaurant from Glasgow, Scotland. That alone gives the spot cred, as legend has it that tikka masala (one of the most popular curry dishes ever) got its start on the British Isles. Suffice to say Brits (and Scots) know their curry.

So here’s the deal. The menu is packed with Indian delights both familiar and exotic. With prices so low, feel free to explore outside your comfort zone. Palak Pakora ($2.95) are deep fried spinach fritters that come with tamarind and mint dipping sauce and are nearly enough for a meal on their own. Chicken Tikka Masala ($6.95) is a spicier, hotter version that you’ll find elsewhere in SoCo, but filled with big chunks of chicken. Palak Paneer, a fresh homemade cheese cooked in creamy spinach sauce ($5.95) has plenty of heat as well, cranking up the fascination factor on a dish that sometimes crosses into Gerber-like mush.

Tandoor dishes, cooked in a clay oven, include the usual chicken and kababs, but also include Batakh Achari ($9.95), a pickled duck served with mango chutney. Karayla Ghosht ($5.95), a combination of bitter melon and lamb studded with spices or Bengan Bharta ($5.95), a mesquite smoked eggplant cooked with onions, tomatoes and spices that’s a perfect match with jasmine rice.

Everything is prepared to order, so expect to cool your heels and kick back with some Bollywood on the flat screen if you’ve got a big order. Bets bet is to chillax with a glass of mango lassi and order up some naan. The clay-oven baked flatbread comes in a variety-pack of flavors, from plain to garlic, onion, cherry-stuffed and (BiteClub’s fave), chili cheese.

The one drawback to Jack’s is the fervor with which they spice, well, everything. You’ll find whole cloves, cardamom and other herbal goodies in everything from curries to rice. It’s not a fun thing to bite down on any sort of whole spice, so be aware. Heat can also be eye-wateringly intense on some dishes, so ask your server ahead of time if you’d like things cooled down.

It’s fairly amazing that Masala Jack’s can keep prices so low while serving up tandoor and curry that’s on par with some of the better Indian restaurants in town. Maybe its better not to ask too many questions. And just go with the Bollywood vibe.

Masala Jack’s Original Good Ol’ Indian Curryhouse. Open daily 11:30am to 9pm; 7981 Old Redwood Hwy, Cotati, 707.795.2251. Order ahead if you’re planning to take out.