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Romantic downtown Indian restaurant offers posh spice

Taste
by: KATIE HARTLEY, A rich color scheme and muted lighting helps give East India Co. a romantic feel.

Many restaurants describe their atmospheres as 'romantic,' but few actually seem so to me. Recently I went to a new restaurant that lived up to the billing.

East India Co. Grill and Bar (821 S.W. 11th Ave., 503-227-8815) is easy to miss from the outside. In fact, I drove past it a couple of times before I realized it was there.

The three-week-old restaurant sits in a block with a nondescript medical office building and across the street from the back of the main library.

But once I walked in, I appreciated the setting. I'm partial to restaurants that are entered through the bar, especially a narrow bar like the one at East India Co. It feels cosmopolitan, reminding me of bigger cities.

It's impossible to see most of the dining room from the entry; most of the eating space is tucked away in back, which lends a provocatively clandestine ambience.

The dining room has a rich color scheme of red, brown, gold and cream. Try to snag one of the very comfortable cushioned booths. The muted lighting is perfect.

There are no windows in the room except for a stunning red glass circular skylight in the high ceiling. If this were a movie set (and it could be), a body might crash through the skylight and land on one of the tables during dinner. So don't forget to look up.

East India Co. owners (and spouses) Anita and Prakash Reddy formerly owned several Indian restaurants in Japan, where Prakash was born and raised. They sold the last restaurant there about five years ago and have lived in Lake Oswego since 2002.

'We'd always talked about opening a restaurant here,' Anita Reddy says.

'There are so many excellent restaurants in Portland. Almost every cuisine is represented well in this city. But there isn't as much good Indian cuisine. There are a couple of places. But we felt there was something missing. And everyone kept urging us to open a place.'

At a recent media lunch, I sampled a bit of East India Co.'s menu, including excellent, chewy naan and wonderfully tender, braised lamb shanks.

I'll return on a date (with my husband) to try more of the menu.

East India Co. is open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and for dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Happy hour is from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Visit www.eastindiacopdx.com for information.

• • •

Calling all tequila lovers. A new restaurant and tequila bar opened last weekend in Northwest Portland. Casa del Matador (1438 N.W. 23rd Ave., 503-228-2855) boasts a collection of more than 75 premium tequilas and Tex-Mex cuisine.

It's part of a small chain of restaurants based in Seattle. As a native Portlander, I generally spurn things from the Emerald City, but I don't forget that the excellent Indonesian restaurant Malay Satay Hut (2850 S.E. 82nd Ave., 503-771-7888) hails from up north. So Casa del Matador may be worth a shot or two or three -it's New Year's Eve!

Casa del Matador is open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Visit www.matadorrestaurants.com for information, including menus.

• • •

Grand Central Restaurant and Bowling Lounge (808 S.E. Morrison St., 503-236-2695, www.grand-central-market.com) finally is opening tonight.

I used to bowl at the old Grand Central and loved its grungy atmosphere. The guys from Concept Entertainment who are opening the new Grand Central have kept the 12 bowling lanes, but now they're all clean and sparkly.

The 22,000-square-foot restaurant and lounge will feature plasma screens, fireplaces, leather couches, pool tables and private dining. The 35-foot-long center bar is made from the reclaimed wood of the original bowling lanes.

Nine other retail tenants will occupy the rest of the complex, including an already opened Sparky's Pizza.

The restaurant's menu is long and includes a huge variety of items such as salads, onion rings, buffalo wings, chicken satay, turkey potpie, nachos, steak and pizza.

Don't forget your socks!

Grand Central Restaurant and Bowling Lounge will be open 11 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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