If the Dutch Goose, the Oasis or Rosatti's used to be the Stanford student hangouts, I think I've found the current Stanford choice for dinner on a Friday night: Darbar Indian restaurant in Downtown Palo Alto. Judging from the number of Stanford undergrads on awkward dates and the graduate students cross pollinating ideas at large round tables, Darbar is the place to be. I open with this line of commentary because my overwhelming impression of the restaurant was dominated by noise. It was as loud as a college dining hall.
The food, however, shared nothing with a dining hall experience. The masala dosa pancake was perfectly thin, but just strong enough to hold in its lentil filling. The chicken vindaloo was hot enough to call the fire department but perfectly paired with the yogurt raita. "If there is a heaven," my dad shared at one point during dinner, "I hope they serve naan." Darbar has mastered the naan baking, in that they avoid the thinness of pita bread but also stop short of the overly doughy pasta-like naan that passes in grocery stores. The tandoori grill was delicious in that the flavor of the tandoor didn't obliterate any moisture in the meat. The chicken was full of flavor and the piquant red typical of tandoori, but it was still moist and soft, two characteristics than often disappear with lesser tandoori plates.
Though the service was prompt and the food delicious, it's too bad the acoustics of the cavernous dining room affect a diner's experience so markedly. Questions to our server were often misheard; dinner conversation was strained. Perhaps the answer to enjoying the wonderful food at Darbar is to avoid the Friday night scene.