We finally made plans for a Friday evening. Our parents (the Mister's) were in town to visit...another first! We had someone to stay with the children, a plan, and most importantly....an awesome couple to nosh with! With all the bases covered the Mister and I struck out for our night on the town; our destination, Taj Indian Cuisine.
We arrived shortly before the other couple so I would be able to get the photos of the inside without holding up our ordering and eating flow. Unfortunately, the manager on staff that night wouldn't allow shots of the inside. It wasn't too busy, so that wasn't the reason. I still can't figure out why she was nervous or resistant to it, but it makes ME nervous to eat somewhere when people don't want their business to have exposure. I've only been to ONE place in town that flat out refused photos inside... But, make that two.
The best way I can describe the inside to you is that there are about 12 tables, varying in size from tables for 2 to tables for 4. There were benches along each of the side walls of the main dining area and most of the seating could easily be maneuvered to seat larger groups than 4. There was intricate woodworking detail on the walls and typical Indian mural art paintings on the wall. I know for sure, at least one of the paintings I saw was identical to one I saw in an Indian place in Oklahoma City we used to dine in regularly and also in an Indian place in Montgomery, Alabama that we dined in once. There was catchy music playing at just the right volume; you could hear it but still hold a conversation over it comfortably. Even though I knew we were near to where the kitchen was, there was very little noise coming from there for most of our evening. It is a nice, quaint little place to eat; more intimate than your average place. Just be prepared for the low lighting. I wasn't. My eyes adjusted of course but it took quite a while. In fact...my camera (even though it is a Canon) had quite a job shooting in such low light.
Immediately upon being seated our waitress brought us a basket of papadum and a bowl of chutney, which is typical and the norm of every Indian place I have ever been to. The chutneys have always been different from place to place that come in the beginning...but I have no complaints about that.
Papadum & Chutney
We spent quite a lot of time looking at their menu, it was quite large. I knew I would order lamb and I could almost predict my Mister was going to go for chicken. I was quite impressed with the array of dishes. Vegan, vegetarian, gluten free... They are all set to feed ANY sort of food allergy or specialty diet from the looks of their menu. But I still canNOT get over seeing beef on Indian menus. I'm not sure if it is the "forbidden fruit" aspect of the meat but...it never fails, every place we go for Indian, beef is a choice on the menu and I refuse to order it out of respect of the Indian culture. There is only ONE state in India that allows beef to be slaughtered and they are still trying to stop it from happening there. Most of the country eats vegetarian and those that don't eat primarily fish, chicken, or lamb. I have heard of whole goats being at special events like weddings and so forth. But, never...EVER beef. *shrug* Oh well...no one seems to care about that subject quite as much as I do. So, we'll move it along...
I was having a rough time choosing between Rogan Josh and Lamb Korma. Being that I make them BOTH at home it worries me sometimes that it has forever ruined take out of either one of them for me. I knew I was making Butter Chicken for the in-laws the next day as well. Decisions, decisions.... I finally went with Rogan Josh (medium heat) with vegetable pakora, vegetable samosa, garlic naan, and an order of basmati rice. The Mister did in fact go with Chicken Tikka Masala. No surprises there. He also requested medium heat. It is loverly that you can do that and they ASK you so you don't forget and end up with a spice level that just knocks your boots off. Our double date couple put in their order and we got to chatting. I had almost forgotten what it was like to talk in sentences that were more than 4 words long and talking without being interrupted every other word by a 3.5 year old. Heaven I tell you!
Shortly after our friends got their food, our appetizers came to the table.
Vegetable Samosa & Vegetable Pakora
Mint Chutney & Tamarind Sauce
My Mister and I cut a samosa in half and shared it. We offered pakoras to our friends and they seemed to enjoy them. The pakora was passable, but I was surprised at how mild the seasoning in the samosa was. Which is to say, I couldn't detect any heat or seasoning of any kind. Typically when I eat samosa by the time I swallow there is a familiar heat that comes on me, right at the back of my throat. That didn't happen this time. It didn't ruin the experience or anything, but it was noticeable. It is something that I always ready myself for just in case some place's idea of "mild" half kills me. Everything was crispy and warm; the mint chutney and tamarind sauce complimented the gems nicely. We hadn't had our appetizers on the table for very long before our main courses and garlic naan showed up.
Chicken Tikka Masala
My Mister and I ate family style, sharing what we ordered with each other...so you're going to hear about the whole shebang! I'll start off with my Rogan Josh. The heat was what I asked for, it was definitely a notch above mild but didn't kill me. The lamb... *drool* ...just thinking about how tender it was makes me want it again. But that is where the love story ends for me with this dish. Rogan Josh is a Kashmiri dish. Truly authentic Rogan Josh doesn't have tomato in it. The color is achieved with Kashmiri mirch and...sometimes ratanjot depending on who is making it. My Rogan Josh was definitely made with tomato which is more of the British way of making the dish. Technically there is nothing wrong with that, but is DOES change the flavor quite a bit. When you have tomato in the sauce it adds a sweet that wasn't meant to be there. There was a good cover of oil on the top as there should have been but, I can tell you that it was NOT mustard oil in this dish. I will say simply that it tasted "okay". But it wasn't what I have come to expect for Rogan Josh.
Our rice was pleasant and had a proper nutty note to it. Rice is rice... There isn't much to say about it. It wasn't dry. I just still have a hard time with the concept of paying for something that *should* come with the dish to begin with.
The garlic naan was actually fabulous. Naan is usually my favorite part of the evening, but I think it is because it gives me the opportunity to eat with my hands shamelessly. I dipped it into my husband's masala and scarfed it down like there was no tomorrow. It was light and flavorful, everything naan should be.
My Mister's Masala sauce was proper...I couldn't complain about the flavor at all. Perfect in every way! The chicken wasn't as moist and tender as the lamb was for me. In fact, I found to it to be quite tough. Lucky for me, I didn't have to finish it, my Mister did.
I was too busy enjoying our conversation with our friends to be disenchanted by the food just then. After we both seemed to have our fill of the food we chatted for what must have been almost another hour. Ask me if I noticed the time... Not a chance! I didn't want the evening to end but...everyone at the table had children to get home to. When the bill came to the table I was surprised that our food came to over 60 loonies before tip. Wowza! Not that I am opposed to spending money on food...I just had never spent that much on Indian food. Nearly 20 loonies for a medium sized bowl of food?? Even if it was because mine was lamb...there was only 1 loonie difference between the price of my lamb and the price of my Mister's chicken.
Would we go back to Taj? Never. Taj certainly had prompt service and the atmosphere was relaxing...but that is where the enjoyment ended for me. The food needs work and I am quite surprised they have been in business SO long. I am quite aware that from region to region...even just a few miles down a road the same dish will be made differently than it is in a neighboring town. But, there are some standard dishes that are not open to interpretation. Rogan Josh is one of them. Kashmiri mirch is the backbone of the dish and tomato in it..canned tomato in Rogan Josh is sacrilege in India. Usually I leave the door open to the possibility that the chef was having an off day, but when you factor in the decades that this place has been open and you take a look around at the clientele it was quite easy to notice that evening there wasn't a single native Indian in there eating dinner. That is a sure sign that you are unfortunately in the wrong place for Indian food my friend. If you are given the choice between Taj and somewhere else, try the other place. For the cost and the product you'll most likely be more satisfied elsewhere.