To those who visited Peacock on its first few days and quickly denounced it on Yelp, I'd advise patience. There's a reason us seasoned pros wait till a restaurant has had time to settle in.
Peacock, across from the old City Hall, shares only a name with the nearby Peacock Tandoori that delighted many back in the '80s and '90s, before the metro area was chockablock with appealing ethnic restaurants. It closed in 2009 after a decline, and lately there's been no South Asian restaurant in Dearborn save the newish Maharajah Grill four miles further west. The Peacock name's reappearance had diners cheerfully but erroneously speculating: "A Dearborn classic returns really soon. We had our first Indian food 35 years ago."
Visitors entering from the rear parking lot are greeted by a framed feather picture and then walk down a hallway colored brilliant peacock blue. Inside, an incongruous neon sign advises "Good Vibes" in lighter blue — perhaps a remnant of the former life of the space, when both ceiling and walls were painted black. Guests order at the cash register and pay in advance, which feels odd but OK. Service is quick.
The halal menu is short and simple, with six vegetarian entrées and six in chicken or lamb. Spice levels are gentle, with "medium" cool enough for just about any average North American diner. Rice is included with the entrées, and when we were packing up our leftovers our server even offered us more rice to take home.
In my experience, the two items Americans unfailingly love on an Indian menu are mango lassis and naan. Peacock's lassis do not disappoint, and owner Akaash Ahluwalia credits the yogurt cultured in-house. The result is creamy, thick, silky, peachy, and, like every entrée we tried, a vibrant shade of orange. (Salty lassi is not offered yet.) Garlic naan, on the other hand, was not as greasy as I, and I expect many others, want it.
Appetizers are familiar samosas and pakoras, along with gobi Manchurian (cauliflower) and "tikka fries," which I was not about to broach. The samosa chaat covers big triangular pastries with a chickpea sauce, chopped onion and cilantro; oddly, the whole concoction has fruity notes.
Paneer pakoras, also made in-house and spicier than the entrées, give you five pieces of battered and fried farmer cheese with two dipping sauces, tamarind and onion-mint.
Old favorite and bright orange butter chicken (which never contains a lot of butter) is mild and tomatoey. You can get butter lamb or a vegetarian version with paneer, too.
Lamb kadhai is a darker mahogany-orange. Although its ingredients are very similar to those of butter chicken, it must be the cinnamon and coriander that make it taste more complex, and it's topped with cilantro. Both come with plenty of sauce and rice, if skimpier protein than Americans may be used to.
"PunjaBiryani" is a rice dish with onions, carrots, and cilantro, served with a thin-but-good spiced yogurt sauce, and again the options are chicken, lamb, or vegetarian with cheese and beans. Malai kofta is four big lightly fried balls of puréed potato, peas, carrots, and paneer in a tomato sauce with cream — the cream makes it mellow, not acid like an Italian tomato sauce.
Other vegetarian choices are saag (spinach) paneer, dal (lentils) makhani, and chana (chickpeas) masala.
The two desserts are familiar gulab jamun and — wait for it — gulab jamun cheesecake, an invention of Ahluwalia's where the cheesecake is topped with crumbled gulab jamun and drizzled in sugar sauce. The first is of course insanely sweet, and I guiltily spooned up all the honey-tasting sugar syrup.
Peacock won't knock the socks off of Indian food mavens or cause them to make a trip from places where South Asian restaurants abound. But it should satisfy those who live way south and west of Hamtramck, and in fact we saw plenty of locals enjoying themselves on a Saturday evening.
There's no alcohol, but there is a $12 weekday lunch buffet. And there's a reason so many Indian restaurants are named "Peacock" — it's the national bird of India.
So many restaurants, so little time. Sign up for our weekly food newsletter delivered every Friday morning for the latest Detroit dining news.