Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Taj

Restaurant: The Taj
Address: 668 N 114th St - In the mini-mall just off of Dodge
Genres: Indian
Check Constraints: 15% for 5 or more people.
Chain: No. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Lamb Vindaloo Lunch Special ($8.99)
    • Rice
    • 1 piece Pakora
    • Salad
  • Paneer Kulcha ($2.99)
  • Diet Dr. Pepper ($1.99)
We haven't eaten lunch at an Indian place since our very first review way back in December of 2007. Man, we have eaten a lot of places since then, and it seems like it was such a long time ago. Regardless, when an associate informed us that The Taj, which used to be crammed into a fairly small place next to the Dodge Street HuHot, had reopened in a larger facility in the same mini-mall... we couldn't pass up the opportunity.

The new location is much, much larger, though perhaps a little lacking in decor. That's fine though, since you're not going to be sitting around waiting for your food very long. As usual we took a while to sort out who was ordering what, but it seemed like it wasn't very long at all until the appetizers were out. We'd barely finished those before the lunch was on the table. It left us with a little less time to talk than usual, but since traffic in the area can be a real pain I didn't mind the extra time in the slightest.

I ordered my lamb vindaloo at a "5", which is "very spicy". I wouldn't say it quite delivered on the "very" part, but it came out at a heat level which perfectly matched the strong taste of the lamb and the vindaloo sauce, even if it overwhelmed some of the more subtle flavors. Taking a cue from the associate who'd been there before, I dumped it out on the rice it was served with, and the whole thing became a very rich-tasting and filling lunch. I ate the accompanying salad first, but it wasn't much more than lettuce dressed with a light vinaigrette. The single piece of (potato) pakora had a good taste to it as well, and I'd consider making a meal of it next time if I weren't so determined to try a curry. At almost $9, the meal felt a little expensive for the size, but I did order lamb, and I felt the extra cost was worth it for the flavor. The chicken vindaloo lunch special was a more reasonable $7. I'd definitely eat this again.

The paneer kulcha (which transates to "cheese bread") was excellent - the perfect complement to the vindaloo. In fact, I used it mostly to gather up and devour the excess vindaloo sauce. It's not overwhelmingly cheesy like your average garlic cheese bread, but is instead subtly laced with a cheese which has permeated its flavor throughout the entirety of the naan-like structure. Once you hear what ND has to say about the garlic naan, I'm pretty sure you'll find it unthinkable to go here and not order some kind of bread with your meal. And for $3 it's worth it.

The Taj isn't the kind of restaurant to go the first time you meet your girlfriend's parents, but if you've got a hankering for Indian while you're at work, you'll be hard pressed to come up with a better option.


  • Chicken Korma Lunch Special ($6.99)
  • Mulligatawny Soup ($2.99)
  • Garlic Naan ($2.99)
  • Soda ($1.99)
I'm not going to talk about the restaurant today, I'm just going to talk about the food, because damn, the food merits talking about. Okay, first up, Mulligatawny. It's a brothy type soup that I've had twice now, and I'm sad to say that while the version I had here was edible, it was nothing to crow about. It was about the same on the quantity of rice in the bowl, mind, but the broth itself, rather than being fairly thick, was thin and greasy. There was a visible film of oil on the broth, and that came through in the taste. It was the same general soup, as opposed to the variants that wiki tells me about, a virulent turmeric yellow with a considerable but not overwhelming spice to it, it's just that one of them was crafted so much better than the other.

That, however, was the first and only low point of the meal. The drinks flowed freely, a change from the somewhat inattentive waiters of other places. I opted out of getting lassi this time, having been not particularly pleased with the yogurty flavor of the last one, but Mecha will have an opinion on the one he got. Two appetizers (aside from the naan) were ordered. One was a sort of fried cheese. I have no idea what type of cheese it was, but it was excellent both with and without the brown dipping sauce that came on the side. the other was a sort of dumpling filled with ground beef and peas. It was much like a Runza, only somewhat less bready. It was also quite difficult to divide among tasters without making a mess, making it one of our less intelligent choices. Still, it was good, and the sauce for it will make you happy if you are a fan of sauces that slap you upside the head and scream "IT IS DELICIOUS CILANTRO. YOU MUST TASTE IT."

The chicken korma is an orangish yellow sauce with immense cubes of chicken, served in a bowl on a plate with plenty of rice and a bit of salad. I have a feeling that the base used for it is extraordinarily spicy, because the dish is cream based and yet still manages to have a considerable heft to its spiciness. On its own, the sauce is a little sour, but quickly grows on you, but more importantly, if you take a cube of chicken, some rice, and the sauce all together, it blends into a delicious flavor. It is not, however, a sauce so good that I would pour the whole thing onto the rice, as they did with the vindaloo. It was much more my speed to carefully manage the amount of sauce involved, because the spice was very nearly too much for me. Also unfortunate was a chicken bone inside one of the chunks of chicken, but at least it was a large bone.

Last, and greatest, though, is the garlic naan. Two such dishes were ordered, and I think I ate more than my fair share, even though I ordered one strictly for myself. I am, as should be quite obvious, a big fan of things that involve bread, butter, and garlic. The garlic naan here is as good as a combination of those three ingredients can get without adding cheese. I'm not even sure how good it could get with cheese. Flat, pita-style bread comes out from the kitchen piping hot, brushed with butter, and with garlic baked in. It's just enough garlic to give you the flavor without making your cubicle-mates go home early. I would happily go here and order nothing but three flats worth of garlic naan and something to wash them down. If you go, and do not order at least some sort of bread (they have six or seven options), you do yourself a grave disservice.

  • Lamb Saag Lunch Special ($8.99)
  • Paneer Pakora ($5.99)
The paneer pakora is the fried cheese appetizer mentioned above. I didn't know until looking those links up just now that paneer is actually the type of cheese, which is a South Asian cheese. It's a little hard to describe, but it seemed more fluffy/airy than typical cheeses. It came as six flat pieces which were about two bites. I don't remember them having a ton of flavor, but they were good. The beef and peas item was decent too. The sauce was quite strong though, so be careful with it. There were two of them, but they were big enough for each of us to have three or four bites worth.

The saag is a curry dish that's heavy on the spinach and greens. It came out looking like a brownish-green mush, but there were nice big chunks of lamb in it. It was also a slightly creamy dish. It wasn't spicy (and I didn't expect it to be) and both lamb and sauce were quite good. I also put mine on the rice, and it turned out to be really filling.

I thought the appetizers were reasonable, and if you're a fan of spinach, a saag variant is definitely worth a try.

  • Lamb Curry Lunch Special ($8.99)
  • Mulligatawny Soup ($2.99)
  • Meat Samosa ($4.99)
  • Mango Lassi ($2.99)
The aforementioned dumpling filled with meat that came with the ridiculously cilantro-y sauce is the Meat Samosa. Also, the ambiance is about as generic as it gets. Bright fluorescent lights, orange walls, the most generic of standard chairs? I realize it's a new place, but it is a bit of a downer that it is so generic. With this food, though, you can only care for so long, and the food coming quick like Cham said also makes not worrying about it too much easy.

The Mango Lassi was a very large cup of lassi for 2.99. Frankly, most other places when you order a few bucks of Lassi do not hand you a huge cup of it. 20 oz? 24? More? Not sure. Too much for me to drink through. I just wish they'd have had Rose Lassi. A much more subtle enjoyable flavor. Anyway, asiding. If you like smooth heavily mango drinks, Mango lassi here is a great buy.

I did not get a crack at any of the bread, but I trust that it was good. The Samosa did have a fairly nice complex flavor which the sauce overrode a bit, so if you're not a huge fan of cilantro, stay light on that sauce. Also, they're difficult to split, as they come in large shells (a-la runza.) The cheese pakora was fine, and ND pretty much nailed the soup: lackluster. It was a shame because the last time we'd had it it was so good.

The lamb curry was a very, very nice flavor, although I should have poured it out on the rice like Cham did. Some good heat, which the lassi helped cut back, and a wonderful complex flavor. Same price bump for lamb, but I don't mind it.

I'd definitely avoid the soup, and might try the non-mango lassi next time, but the main dishes or any of the non-soup extras were good to great, and that's definitely worth coming back to.

  • Lamb Keema Lunch Special ($8.99)
    • Rice
    • 1 piece Pakora
    • Salad
  • Soda Pop ($1.99)
I was reading over the menu and saw that the Lamb Keema was basically ground lamb and peas and thought to myself, "That sounds like shepherd's pie," then thought further, "I like shepherd's pie!" And thus was the order. As Cham said, the salad was nothing special--just a little bit of lettuce with a light vinegarette on it. The potato pakora was delicious but far too small and short in quantity. The rice had some yellow bits and some green flakes in it, but was unremarkable. It tasted pretty much like rice. The Lamb Keema itself was pretty good. It was finely ground lamb spiced with some peas mixed in. The peas weren't rendered into mush, so they added a nice pop to each bite. The dish overall ended up, as I expected, tasting like spicy shepherd's pie sans mashed potatoes. However, despite all of this, I was underwhelmed. The dish just didn't offer anything new or interesting. The next time I'll probably try something different. Maybe a heaping plate of potato pakora ...

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