Saturday, May 14, 2011

Taj Mahal

(Part 2 -- April 2012)

Taj Mahal is an Indian restaurant in Salem, Oregon. It is actually on State Street, right next door to Adam's Rib Smokehouse and Sassy Onion, and near Willamette University. It is a prime location, as students, professors, and other professional staff in the area are within walking or driving distance.

Taj Mahal is still new to the Salem area, having opened on April 5, 2011. I did go to the grand opening for their lunch buffet. I decided to get a large buffet lunch to go, and I got the following:

I love Indian food, and I had no problems enjoying my take-out platter. The Tandoori chicken was properly prepared, and the other chicken dishes I got were just as good. The fried veggies had a nice Indian flavor...I could definitely taste the cumin, turmeric, and other Indian spices. Finally, I enjoyed their naan bread. It had a good chewiness to it, with the slightest hardness on top to show it was baked nicely. Well done.

I had issues with the service the first time. I had to ask for plastic utensils and napkins with my meal. If I'm taking this plate to go, utensils and napkins should be placed with the lunch in a plastic bag, no questions asked. And then they did not have plastic bags on opening day. Not a good start there. Finally, I was hoping to try a lamb or seafood dish the first time, but they only had vegetarian and chicken options on the lunch buffet.

So last night, I decided to give Taj Mahal a second chance, this time at dinner. My friend and I ordered a nice array of food from the menu in order to get the full experience:

Complementary chips
Mint (left) and tamarind dipping sauces for the chips
Mango Lassi
Chili chicken (extra spicy)
Garlic naan bread
Tandoori shrimp
Basmati rice
Lamb vindaloo (I called for extra spicy again)
The chips and dipping sauces (mint and tamarind) were complementary. They were OK, nothing to really write home about. The mango lassi is a traditional Indian drink, and I thought it was a success. The sweetness of the mango gave a refreshing sensation in my mouth. I have read that ground pistachio nuts could be sprinkled on the top, but there were none here. Probably a wise move, just in case someone with a nut allergy orders one.

The chili chicken appetizer was a winner. I did not think it was spicy at all, but I could see the chef put in a considerable amount of red spices and chili flakes. I could still see and taste the chicken and vegetables, and that's a good thing.

The garlic naan...delicious again. Just the right amount of garlic for me so that I could enjoy that lovely flavor, but not overpowering to scare a potential date away in the future (should I take someone special to Taj Mahal).

The Tandoori shrimp was decent. I loved the presentation; what can beat a server bringing a sizzling plate of food to your table? Not much. The danger here is that shrimp (or other seafood) can overcook from staying in the hot skillet, and the vegetables can also burn over time. Despite all that, the food was still wonderful.

I did not eat much of the rice, but it paired nicely with the lamb vindaloo.

Speaking of the vindaloo, it (rightfully) had the most heat of all the dishes we ordered, but it was still very mild for me. The tomato sauce, when paired with Indian spices, proved rich in my stomach and in flavor. The lamb was nicely seasoned and cooked; very tender.

The dinner setting is absolutely amazing. A lot of white -- including a white rose at each table. The setting becomes more romantic for two reasons: (1) the place itself is small and intimate; and (2) the lighting is individualized on each table. It is a perfect place to take your date, especially if she loves Indian food.

One little criticism: I wouldn't go with so much white for napkins and tablecloths. Dishes like the chili chicken and lamb vindaloo will stain the tablecloth if food is dropped on it.

Taj Mahal has become my favorite destination for good Indian cuisine, but I just wish they offered more lamb and seafood options at lunchtime. Great job!

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