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Published: Thursday, 3/11/2010

Restaurant review: Tandoor Cuisine of India ****

Lest you think Indian food is all vegetables and spices, you should know that Americanized Indian restaurants embrace carnivores.

There are 16 vegetarian dishes and 43 meat, poultry, and seafood entrees on the menu at the Tandoor Cuisine of India: That's a higher proportion than at many restaurants representing the great subcontinent and certainly more than would be found almost anywhere in the vegetocracy of India.

But with marinades, sauces, and cooking methods, the Tandoor changes up both flavor and presentation of chicken, beef, lamb, shrimp, fish, and pork as we know them.

Consider the marinade for the classic tandoori chicken ($8.95): ginger, garlic, yogurt, and seasonings that could include cumin, coriander, and turmeric. Skinless with a fiery orange-red color, it's roasted in a hot tandoor (clay oven) until it's a tad crisp on the outside but tender inside.

And the sauces: one has mango, onions, garlic, and ginger (the latter two ingredients are often married); muglai is mushrooms in a tomato and butter sauce; shahi korma is rich with nuts and cream; saag is creamed spinach, and vindaloo sauce can be hot and tangy.

Hearty applause for the lunch buffet ($6.95, Tuesday-Sunday; it bustles around noon on the weekends). It's a great deal with an excellent variety that includes items from the main menu and appetizers, including tandoori chicken (lots of legs), chicken masala (tender chunks in a tomato-based sauce), a thin vegetable-lentil soup, and fragrant long-grained basmati rice.

Aloo chaat is a tasty blend of chilled potatoes, onions, cukes, tomatoes, and chutney in a mildly sweet and hot tamarind sauce. When purchased as a $2.50 appetizer, it's plenty for two.

The buffet includes some mighty spicy items (ask about dishes you're unsure of), and cool raita (homemade whipped yogurt with cukes, potatoes, and fresh mint leaves - try it on everything).

The staff continually replenished our basket of papadum (a crisp, peppery wafer) and ferried off used plates.

At the suggestion of a Tandoor regular, my companions and I mixed two desserts - kheer (a sweet rice pudding) and a mango-melon pudding - and loved the result. There's even a pot of masala chai (spiced tea).

On another occasion, we enjoyed dinner, starting with an appetizer of shrimp pakora ($5.95), battered (a bit too thickly for our tastes) and deep fried.

The house special bread ($2.95) is a sort of chapati flatbread filled with several fine-sounding items, but it was a tongue-burner.

Both of our entrees were enough for two, especially with an appetizer such as the yummy aloo chaat.

The mixed grill Bombay ($11.95) is a carnivore's delight. Of the five offerings, my favorites were cooked in the tandoor - chicken and shrimp; alas, there was just one shrimp, but it was plump, firm, and perfectly roasted. The plate also had a couple of finger-sized lamb rolls, a chunk of spicy chicken tikka, and basmati rice.

My companion ordered thali house nonvegetarian ($11.95). It's served on a round stainless dish (thali) with steel cups containing chicken curry, lamb curry, dal (a lentil sauce), and raita (try mixing it with the curries and dal). It also came with two pieces of tandoori chicken, rice, poori (a puffed, whole-wheat round bread that's deep-fried in entirely too much oil), and kheer for dessert as well as a hot beverage. Were we to order it again, we'd request a substitute for the greasy poori.

Somewhat unusual for an Indian eatery, the Tandoor has a full bar.

By the way, the Tandoor has a good Web site with a menu and answers to frequently asked questions about Indian food.

Tandoor lost a point from this reviewer for a barely barrier-free women's room that had a deafening exhaust fan and a broken hand dryer, and for a table-cleaning method that consisted of a server spraying a glass-topped dinner table with cleaner, then wiping it down with the previous customer's soiled cloth napkin.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com



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