Taj India serves spicy menu with tasty, sweet desserts

Restaurant review

June 05, 2010|By OMNI VORE / Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Just some of the many dishes at Taj India in downtown Hagerstown. Clockwise from left, Basmati rice, chicken tikka masala, Kashmiri naan bread and assorted kabobs of shrimp, chicken and lamb.
Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

Dear Friends, I started writing this column almost exactly two years ago with a visit to an Indian buffet in Frederick, Md. This is my last column and it seems very appropriate to me to end with an Indian restaurant in downtown Hagerstown, Taj India.

Thank you for being with me over the last two years as we explored all the fine and unusual restaurants in this Tri-State area. I have enjoyed my term immensely. Happy dining!

Taj India restaurant is in the Arts and Entertainment district of downtown Hagerstown. The five-story brick building at 28 S. Potomac St. features art deco glass, gorgeous oak-framed glass doors and an immense inside space.

When I saw that long expanse of wooden floor, I felt like dancing, sliding along to a table for two. The seating was up a bit, so we sat elevated. The Professor had a view of the door so he could see who came in and I had a view of the kitchen so I could watch the action to the rear.


There were three chefs in the kitchen and because the menu was vast, they were kept busy. Our greeter gave us a leather menu with six pages of offerings. We could have chosen from the chicken, lamb, seafood or vegetable specialties, but we chose from the Tandoori menu.

First our waitress brought us a basket of pappadams, which are a crisp fried flat bread made from chick pea flour. These were flavored with black pepper and served with three chutneys. The relishes were in a white boat tray, which held three containers. The first dish had sweet tamarind, the middle dish had green dill and cilantro and third dish had a red onion and chili dip. We ate them lickety split for they were crunchy and good.

Looking up, we saw a pressed-tin ceiling high above us and from the ceiling hung elegant chandeliers. Looking about, we saw that the tables were black, the tablecloth white and the napkins yellow. The walls were a creamy tomato color. But it was the art on the far wall that drew me.

The Professor had just ordered samosas, so I knew I had a few minutes to look at the art. The oil paintings lining the bar were by a local artist and were for sale.

Also impressive was the bar itself, a massive piece of furniture, very well stocked, including several Indian gins and beers on tap. The bar was presided over by the bartender and at the top of the bar stood a bronze statue of an elephant. I slid gracefully back to my seat as the samosas arrived.

The presentation of the two deep-fried pyramids of samosas ($3.95) on a white plate with a garnish of carrot and cabbage shavings was inviting. But more than presentation, the taste was outstanding. The samosas were filled with mashed potatoes and green peas, always good. The exterior of the samosa was a crisp fried counterpoint. We finished off the plate of chutneys with the samosas. Unfortunately, there were no more chutneys. We missed the chutneys. And we missed Indian music. It was very quiet in the huge room.

While I had been looking at the art, The Professor had ordered Kashmiri naan ($3.50). This raised baked flat bread was filled with chopped pistachio nuts and small yellow currants. Plain naan was also available. The bread was served warm and had most likely been cooked in a Tandoori oven.

And then our main courses came. I had Tandoori chicken ($15.95 for a whole chicken; $9.95 for half) and the Professor had the Tandoori special kabob platter ($16.95). A copper kettle of white Basmati rice was served with the main course. This rice was dotted with green peas and sprinkled with yellow rice.

If I ever get to go to India, I imagine that the colors will be breathtaking. I have always loved the color of Tandoori chicken for its gorgeous red/yellow/orange hue. The chicken is marinated in yoghurt and freshly ground spices and some of those are cayenne and red chili.

The chicken was moist, flavorful, satisfying. I would love to know if there is a real Tandoori oven in the kitchen and if so, I would love to see it, for Tandoori ovens are unique. The descriptions below are based on the assumption that there was a Tandoori oven in the back room.

The Tandoori kabob samplings were generous and the meat was good. The spices seemed to be similar on each of the offerings and most likely included ginger, garlic, coriander, chili and cumin. Salt was the strongest taste. The two Tandoori shrimp, which we ate first, being shrimp fiends, were almost inedible because of their high salt content.

The lamb seekh kabob was ground lamb enhanced with spices, then wrapped around skewers and roasted. Four cigar-shaped sausage kabobs were on the platter. This was good lamb, generous portions, but once again, quite salty.

The other lamb kabob was Bati kabob, which was marinated cubes of lamb on a skewer and grilled in a clay oven. This lamb was tender and a tad spicy hot.

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