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SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — It used to be that, if you were in downtown Sasebo looking for an Indian meal, Bishnu was an obvious choice.

Beginning last month, the decision process got more complicated.

Sona, the city’s newest Indian restaurant, opened Aug. 1 in the Yonka-cho Arcade district within walking distance of its counterpart at the Sun Plaza side of the arcade.

So, how does the newcomer stack up?

There are few surprises with Sona, a typical Indian restaurant that originated in New Delhi.

The menu is based around curries, grilled meat and bread. It also includes lassies, juices, desserts, a variety of side dishes and alcoholic drinks.

Meal items such as tandoori combination plates — chicken, prawns or fish grilled over charcoal — and curries can be ordered individually or in sets.

The Taj Mahal special set, which the menu says is "suggested for gentlemen," packs in a variety of Sona’s specialties. It’s also the most expensive choice on the set menu at 2,415 yen.

A companion set, called the Sona Special, is designed for women and is slightly smaller and cheaper.

The gentlemen’s set started with a rich tomato soup — tangy and creamy with roasted garlic — and a garden salad with a carrot and ginger dressing.

A sizzling tandoori plate bridged the gap between appetizers and the main course. The Taj Mahal features juicy cuts of garlic chicken, prawn and fish on a bed of onions.

The tandoori plate was adequate, but the true test of an Indian restaurant is its curry. Most curries are humdrum, and making a great curry is an art.

The Taj Mahal set allows diners to choose two curries from a menu of 23 types. I went with the eggplant curry — a mid-grade choice at 650 yen — and the special prawn curry — a highbrow selection at 1,500 yen.

The eggplant curry was average or slightly above. However, the prawn was rich and succulent — the prawn meat was buttery and incredibly tender, more like lobster than shimp.

In all, Sona is definitely a good choice for a lunch or dinner date. The food is high quality, if maybe a bit expensive, and the staff is energetic and friendly.

But if you’re closer to Bishnu and are looking for some curry and naan, don’t bother walking the extra distance to Sona. You probably won’t notice the difference.

SonaSasebo, Japan

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily

Prices: Curry dishes 600-1,500 yen; dinner sets 1,995-2,415 yen; lunch sets 750 yen; beer and cocktails 525-578 yen

Specialties: 23 varieties of Indian curry and tandoori plates

English menu: Yes, and some of the wait staff speak English

Dress: Casual

Clientele: Variety including families and students

Location: Yonka-cho Arcade, Sasebo. From Nimitz Park cross the Albuquerque Bridge; take a right down the arcade; pass through the arcade traffic light; Sona is on the right side of the arcade, up one floor from the arcade walkway.

Web site: None

Phone: 0956-23-6886

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