Far better than the average Indian restaurant, Benares is happy collaboration of Restaurateur Inder Singh with chef Peter Beck, known or his interpretation of his native cuisine who formerly worked at the helm of the Tamarind empire.
The unassuming outside gives way to a very attractive interior, dark with a sinuous cutout along the length of the ceiling, supposedly evoking the Ganges, and red-lined niches with small lights. The place is deservedly popular with dark mustard banquettes and wooden tables. It seats 89 with a private dining room for groups up to twelve. The menu pulls from numerous Indian states with a focus on--guess what--Benares, also known as Varanasi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
On the table, instead of the typical papadum, are slightly odd flower- shaped, fairly tasteless "crackers" to tip into one of several sauces (including the tamarind with a peculiar glutinous texture.) If you like it, go for the goat. I enjoyed the Punjabi goat curry, fully aware that this preparation involves dealing with plenty of small bones. Chicken tikka masala in the usual tomato sauce was also good and the somewhat spicy aloo gobi has large pieces of cauliflower unlike the smaller bits presented in many eateries. Diners at the table next to us were happy with a beautiful biryani, presented as a round mold with drizzles of yogurt and a green herb on top. Among Chef Beck’s signature dishes are the Sevai Tomato Kurma (mussels, scallops, rock shrimp and crab claws tossed in a garlic tomato sauce over Indian style rice noodles) and the Tandoori Hen ( whole Cornish hen marinated in lime, ginger, cumin, garlic and garam masala and cooked in the tandoori oven).
There is a full bar with plenty of appropriate Indian beers, enough wines to make most people happy and cocktails like one with tequila, roast pineapple, a house-made orange liqueur and Grenadine spiked with chili. You can enjoy a drink in the front cocktail area at the granite-topped bar decorated with Indian paintings.
There are a great many veg dishes like roast eggplant with onions (Baingan Bharta); lentils with tomato gravy (Dal Makhani) and "dumplings" of vegetables and cheese in a cashew-onion sauce. If you need an explanation of anything, ask.
One area Benares could improve is the raita--the cucumber version was low on cucumber with a gelatinous texture and little taste. Overall, this restaurant hits the sweet spot with fresh ingredients prepared with care but reasonable prices with a meal for two coming in at roughly $50 whereas some top Indian spots around town are far higher.
Benares is open for lunch from 11 AM until 2:45 and dinner daily starting at 5 PM. Too lazy to go? They deliver. All credit cards accepted.