BUTTER CHICKEN FACTORY (556 Parliament, at Prospect, 416-964-7583) Complete dinners for $30 per person (lunches $20), including all taxes, tip and an Indian lager. Average main $13/$10. Open for lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, dinner Monday to Thursday 5 to 10 pm, Friday to Sunday and holidays 5 to 10:30 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
Aside from pad thai and poutine, is there another dish more popular than butter chicken? Who doesn't love succulent chunks of Subcontinental chicken swimming in luxurious cream?
"It's what everybody wants when they go to an Indian restaurant," says Saffron Tree and Biryani House owner Gurinder Bedi.
To capitalize on Toronto's collective craving for sweet meat and heat, Bedi has taken over the old Timothy's Tikka House in Cabbagetown and transformed it into a temple dedicated to the Punjabi staple. And although he's dubbed the new joint Butter Chicken Factory, it's no assembly line.
The buttery bird comes three ways at the Factory, first as atypically moist boneless breast in a mildly numbing tomato sauce that gets most of its punch from spice instead of whipping cream. Those who prefer it home-style can order it with meaty thighs and legs on the bone.
The third version (all $12.99 and, like most mains, served with cookbook-perfect basmati rice dressed with caramelized onion) finds the fowl in an even richer gravy intensified with crushed cashew, almond and saffron. Sop up every fluorescent drop with garlicky naan ($2.99).
Starters like elegantly plated aloo tikki sees mashed potato fritters stuffed with minced green chilies and chickpea channa masala, though crisp onion bhajia (both $4.99 with tamarind and mint chutneys) would better be described as pakoras rather than what the card calls onion rings. Go with the Sizzler ($16.99 with naan) for the best of Factory's smoky tandoor oven - yogurt-marinated chicken, skewered lamb kabobs, shell-on jumbo shrimp and blocks of char-blistered paneer.
Veggies also get the tandoor treatment. Slow-cooked daal makhani arrives tossed with freshly chopped coriander and scented with charcoal, as does gingery eggplant bharta. "A true delicacy," aromatic aloo gobhi adraki - i.e., potato-cauliflower casserole - is so deliciously tender, it virtually falls apart on the fork (all $9.99 with rice). Too bad they're all finished with unseasonal slices of dead-of-winter tomato.
Unless specified otherwise, the kitchen's spicing is strictly milquetoast, though anyone with a death wish can ramp their lamb Vindaloo up to a cranium-melting degree. And better to pass on anything with goat in it, like Balti gosht (both $12.99 with rice) unless you're a fan of hacked up bones and gristle, something I can't imagine the well-heeled C-Town audience will enjoy.
But what other Indian restaurant in this price range sports linen napkins, glass stemware and formal service? And did we mention the weekday $9.99 all-you-can-eat thali at lunch?
In every sense, Butter Chicken Factory delivers.