7677 Mall Road
Someone asked me why I haven’t reviewed any Indian restaurants, and the simple answer is that Indian cuisine is so synonymous with vegetarianism that it seemed unnecessary to even mention them.
There are two major culinary styles - the northern style emphasizes dairy; the south highlights rice, stew and pickle dishes. Those new to Indian cuisine can ease their way into this wonderful world by checking out an Indian lunch buffet, which highlights some of the more popular dishes. Quite a few places around town offer them and there are always several vegetarian options to choose from.
We were in Florence recently and swung by Apna on Connector Drive for a quick bite, only to discover that they have closed, so we tried our luck at Taj India a couple blocks up the road. We hadn’t visited Taj India in quite a while (we stopped going there when Apna opened), but things haven’t changed – the service is still excruciatingly slow, the décor as colorful as a glass of water, and the floor still looked as though it could use a good cleaning. I could excuse all of that if the food was good, but it was a disappointing experience all the way round.
Indian cuisine has a complex depth of flavor and isn’t supposed to be “all about the heat,” but you’d never know that if Taj India was your only reference point. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I love a dish that makes flames shoot from my mouth, but not at the expense of the rest of the ingredients. It’s a delicate balance, and one which Taj India doesn’t do very well.
I tried the mater paneer - cottage cheese cubes and peas in a spiced tomato sauce. It traditionally has a base of tumeric, asafoetida, cumin and chili browned in oil and combined with tomato, ginger, garlic and coriander. The heat level ranges from 1-5 and I requested a three. The level was fine but the balance was way off - all I could taste was the chili, which overwhelmed this usually delicious dish. I probably would have been better off ordering a level 0 and asking for a side of hot onion chutney to liven things up instead.
My husband’s non-veg lamb makhni fared no better. Makhni’s have a buttery, tomato base with a hint of yogurt/cream and garam masala (a mild but pungent spice mix), and those who shy from spicy-hot dishes – like my husband - tend to stick with yogurt or cream-based makhnis and kormas. He was surprised and dismayed that the restaurant skimped on the lamb – there were only a few small chunks swimming in a sea of gravy. It was also too spicy to enjoy. To deaden the heat he could have ordered a side of raita (a yogurt/cucumber sauce) but since we already felt we weren’t getting our money’s worth we were loathe to add to the bill. Most of his dish was left untouched, a $12 loss for us.
Although we went away disappointed, Taj India offers an inexpensive lunch buffet which we hear is much better and less fiery than what we experienced as evening diners, and might be a better option for next time. If there is a next time.