My friend and I feel adventurous. The sports bar scene just doesn’t do the trick for two secure young women looking for something new to do. Neither of us has time for an escapade to a foreign land for dinner. The cure to our exotic itch is Indian cuisine at Tandoor on 88 Exchange St.
The dining room is narrow. Tables are clustered together. My friend chooses a boothfor two. Brass lanterns with elegant patterns gracefully hang from the ceiling. A massive golden chandelier with luminescent beads shimmers, diverting my attention away from ordering. A few tiles on the ceiling are concealed with vibrant cloths decorated with images of birds, flowers and elephants. The pattern leads the eyes to the kitchen. Silhouetted designs of temples garnish the walls glazed with ripe melon colors. The entire dining room is a calming cocktail.
The menu is placed in front of us. I suddenly feel lost. What will I order? How can I stay confident when I’m not familiar with Indian food? I peer at the menu. I’ve dabbled in curry a few times, but the other dishes are a blur. My friend senses trouble. She scoops up the menu. We investigate the menu as we practice the pronunciation of our choices.
My friend starts with the Coconut Soup ($2.50). Although coconut is assumed to be an after-dinner treat, tonight the soup serves as a rich beginning. It has layers of whole milk and swirls of slivered coconut with a dash of cinnamon. The frothy mix creates pure delight. Although the Coconut Soup looks heavenly, I opt for the garlic nan ($2.95), a down-to-earth bread treat before our meal. It is crisp on the surface with sprinkles of golden butter, garlic, and fresh herbs. I rip apart the bread and discover a chewy hidden treasure of soft squishy dough.
The garlic nan is chaperoned by three chutneys–devil red cooked onions, emerald green mint and a dark sweet blend of tamarind. The chutneys give that little extra zest to our meal. They accentuate each other like a pair of classic stilettos. My friend chooses the Chicken Tikka Masala ($10.95). It is a dish with delightful chunks of chicken marinated in a yogurt sauce. The aromas dance across the table and tickle my nose. The plate hisses. She offers me a bite. I gladly accept. The chicken is drenched in a spicy golden brown sauce. It is hot at first, but yogurt coats it, morphing it into velvety coolness. I anxiously wait for the Vegetable Biryani ($10.50) to arrive. When it does, I am pleasantly surprised.
The dish is a masterpiece of ingredients welded to create abstract art. It is heaped with long grain Basmati rice combined with trinkets of peas, raisins and saut?ed vegetables. Leaves of fresh lettuce trim the dish. My fork plunges into the rice. I notice cubes of cheese and toasted cashews cascading from the rice. For a moment it is just my dish and me. I marvel at the blends of spices and textures roller-coasting in my mouth.
The food is delightful and not overly filling. So, my friend suggests dessert. My eyes twinkle. Tonight we don’t feel guilty indulging our sweet tooth. I see the words “mango ice cream” ($2.50) and I know what I want. My friend is in the mood for something a little more provocative. She plunges into her dessert: Gulab Jamun, two golden fried cheese balls drenched in honey syrup. The cheese is staunch but the rosewater is harmonious. We will do Indian at Tandoor again and again.
Erin Zwirn can be contacted at [email protected].