What is it about Indian food that makes me so happy? I can’t quite summarize how much I enjoy the kaleidoscope of flavors in Indian cuisine. . . it’s always a delectable feast every time we head out in search of great Indian food.
We’d known that Tandoor Fine Indian Cuisine had moved to the Cooper Creek Shopping Plaza over two years ago. What we didn’t know is that everyone else had heard of it too! We ventured out on a wet, rainy Thursday night, thinking we’d have a little quiet time to speak to the owners, Sheena and Poonam Maini. Silly us. . . the place was positively bustling with obviously happy, in-the-know diners!
Like other guests, Mart and I dashed through big, summer rain drops to get to the door, where we were greeted immediately and taken to our seat. Sheena joined us shortly, at which time we caught up on how they enjoyed their new location (they love it) and how things have been going there, (never been better!)
Seeing that we had Sheena at our table, and knowing there isn’t any Indian dish I’m not willing to try, I asked Sheena to make suggestions. (And THAT, my friends, is what I’m going to do more often, given the chance.)
Mart had his eye on a few of his all-star favorites, while Sheena suggested we try her personal favorite appetizer, the Aloo Tikki Chollo, a wonderful chopped potato and onion stew with chickpeas and ground spices, then finished of with Tandoor’s house yogurt, tamarind and mint chutney. One word for this dish. . . SPECTACULAR! Ok, maybe two words…MORE!!
“What is that hint of sweetness,” I asked Sheena.
“That’s the tamarind. Whenever you find your Indian food is a bit spicy, the tamarind helps balance it out.” She then ordered two small dishes of tamarind chutney and mint chutney for us to sample with our crispy naan crackers.
Mart walked in with two menu items on his mind. The first being the Meat Somosa appetizer, which quickly followed our Aloo Tikki Chollo.
I loved the crunchy pastry dough on the Somosa, a dough more in line with a buttery pie crust than filo – making it ideal for holding all that meaty lamb goodness and minced peas. I couldn’t help but notice that as I cut my Somosa into 4 or 5 bites, Mart finished his off in just two!
“Should I get the Chicken Makhani, (butter chicken – the house favorite at Tandoor) or should I go with my own personal favorite, the Tikka Masala?” he asked Sheena.
“I believe you should order whatever your stomach is telling you,” Sheena replied. “Sometimes it yearns for something new, and sometime you just want something familiar.” Tikka Masala it is, then . . . but with chicken, instead of the lamb, fish, or shrimp options.
Marinated in an oh-so-special mixture of tandoori red spices and yogurt, the chicken is roasted slowly in the tandoor oven, then chopped and mixed into a rich, creamy, oh-so-dreamy spiced masala sauce. Mart was in heaven.
“At what point do you determine the spice of each dish, be it mild, medium or hot?” I asked Sheena. “It’s all in the spices, and we don’t add them until we know what the customer wants. Everything is pretty much made to order when you get here.”
Well that’s deliciously obvious.
My entrée, as suggested by Sheena, was the Lamb Saag, the most popular dish in Punjab, India, which also happens to be where they, and the chef, are from. Succulent chunks of lamb are scented with fresh Indian spices like cardamom, ginger, cumin and turmeric and cooked in a creamy spinach gravy.
“I hope you like spinach,” Sheena asked when suggesting the Lamb Saag. Truthfully, I’m confident I’ll like anything coming out of the kitchen at Tandoor, where the chef has been devoted to the Maini family for over 14 years.
My Lamb Saag is spectacular, and I love the presentation, served in an individual chafing dish over a small, open flame that kept the dish perfectly warm throughout the meal. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Garlic Naan bread that was clearly topped with fresh garlic and cilantro! How did such a simple slice of what looks like a pita bread pack such a punch of flavor! What an excellent ratio of garlic to butter and bread. A single clove more would have been too much. Any less would have been a shame.
And here’s where I go into my spiel about basmati rice. I knew the minute the rice hit our table that the entire meal was being cooked by a master. Whenever I see long grain basmati rice cooked to such perfection that each and every kernel of rice is moist enough to plump up, while dry enough not to stick to each other, I know someone has his/her eye on the prize.
Seriously. Rice this good is not easy to make. I would come to Tandoor just for the rice . . . and the Aloo Tikki Chollo . . . and the garlic naan . . . and, well you know where I’m going with this.
Everything is so special here, Mart and I have to ask Sheena how Tandoor differs from other local Indian restaurants.
“Well, we were the very first 100% Indian cuisine restaurant in Sarasota,” she begins. “There are other restaurants who serve both Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, but we feel it’s best to stay with what we know, the foods we grew up with in India.”
“Chef likes to create special dishes for our regular customers, and some of his best dishes aren’t on the menu. We only use Halal meat and have to depend on major market sources for our spices, so whenever the Chef gets his hands on a special ingredient, he can’t wait to make something new for my mom and I, or a regular guest.”
Note to reader: Tandoor has guests who eat there two and three times a week! After tonight, maybe I can summarize Tandoor Fine Indian Cuisine like this – The “yum” here is definitely greater than its parts!