Tandoor Indian Grill
729 E. 3300 South, Salt Lake City ; 801-486-4542
Expect slow but amiable service and lots of beautifully executed Indian flavors. Vegetarian dishes are consistently good.
Hours: M-Th, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; F-S, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Su, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Liquor: Beer & Wine
Reservations: Not accepted/necessary
Recommended Dishes: Keema dosa, dal makhani (kidney beans and lentils), palak paneer.
October 31, 2007
Sizzling vegetarian fare, but service curries no favor
By Vanessa Chang
I have a total aversion to buffets. I grew up on the open pans of mass-produced food sitting under heat lamps. But after traveling far and wide and enjoying many a sit-down meal, I couldn't willingly stomach food that had to be protected with a sneeze-guard. Much to the dismay of my parents, who adore Chinese buffets, I'm the complaining party that goes along because at least I know I will always enjoy the company, if not the fact that I'm paying $10 for a subpar meal.
I ate my words a few weeks back when friends and I lunched at Tandoor, The Indian Grill. Its strip-mall location didn't immediately impress. Who knew it housed a handful of well-prepared Indian food from all over the subcontinent for lunch buffet and sit-down dinner?
Most of the customers were there for one thing. Office workers, a few stragglers from the nail salon next door and neighborhood folks thought they were just in for a quick and affordable lunch. What we got instead from the buffet ($9.99) -- whose items rotate -- was a zippy paneer masala (homemade fresh cheese in creamy tomato curry, a la carte, $9.95), luscious chicken tikka (a la carte, $11.95) and unique Hyderabadi eggplant, with the ubiquitous starches, blistered naan and fragrant basmati rice.
Whatever the place lacks in décor, the food makes up for in gusto. That mysterious eggplant dish is beguiling because it uses tiny baby globe eggplants that are equatorially scored and stuffed with sesame-nut paste. The accompanying electric red-orange curry was flecked with extra garlic and infused with fennel to make it typically "Hyderabadi" -- so called for the south Indian city nowadays more famed for its resident software tech geniuses than its regional cuisine. On one occasion when we ordered this dish for dinner, we were told apologetically that the tiny eggplants weren't available and the dish wouldn't be as good. Not the typical level of dedication one usually finds on other Indian menus that focus entirely on the lovely cuisine of the north or that make only a short culinary foray south.
Tandoor takes the range seriously with a formidable menu that lists familiar curries, with Chinese inflected stir-fries and many South Asian specialties.
Like what, you ask? Try dosa ($8.95 to $9.95). Simply put, it's a mother of a crêpe, made from lentil or rice flour batter, pan-cooked until it's toffee-crisp on the exterior, then rolled and encased with fillings of your choice. My Taco Bell-loving friend likened it to "a burrito, but better." I would emphatically agree. Curried potatoes in the masala dosa ($8.95) or ground spiced lamb and peas in the keema dosa ($9.95) are consistently pleasing. It's large enough to share for a dinner party of four. But ordered a la carte, it's wonderfully complete with a bit of lentil soup (dal) and chutney.
In a previous life, the restaurant was Bombay Express. After undergoing new ownership and management, the interior, though still sparse, has improved with thoughtful flourishes in white tablecloths, sophisticated light fixtures and a mellow Indian soundtrack. The host and hostess have always been gracious and efficient. The scent of the place is alluring. The awkward pace of service and wait for your food are not.
Tandoor has inherited the previous restaurant's level of service -- affable, amiable, sometimes informative, but often stretched thin on nights that weren't particularly busy. The "help wanted" sign has been posted for a while now and I suppose it isn't until it comes down that this factor can be resolved. But the servers have always aimed to please with apologies where appropriate and genuine inquiries as to how we liked our meals, which usually have been "very well."
The few times the menu came short, oddly, were when we had meat dishes from the restaurant's namesake oven. The clay oven heat supposedly seared and cooked our tandoor chicken, available in white boneless meat or dark bone-in ($10.95), but it lacked in flavor compared to the vegetarian dishes, the menu's real strength, such as silky palak paneer, homemade cheese with spinach ($9.95). In general, vegetarian options were the most flavorful and consistently good. Dal makhani ($9.95) interestingly was cooked with kidney beans as well as the garlicky stewed lentils, but was beautiful when sopped up with the house flatbreads.
Few things in life are as satisfying or as simple as good bread, flat or leavened. Plain discs of plush naan with their blistered air pockets ($1.95), crisp whole wheat roti ($1.95) and cheesy kulchas ($2.95) all attest to the tandoor oven's transformative magic and overall allure. And when these things are in steady supply with a promise of good, affordable Indian cuisine, it can help ease the pain of a long dinner wait.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
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