Sauces are tops at Charles Village's India Tandoor

August 12, 1999|By KATHRYN HIGHAM | KATHRYN HIGHAM,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Smooth, seductive sauces won us over at India Tandoor, a new Indian restaurant in Charles Village. The creamy, almost fluffy spinach sauce for the lamb saag was the first I've tasted where the spinach retained some of its fresh flavor. The rich tomato-based masala sauce for the chicken tikka had the silkiness of cream and the complexity of exotic spices. Our favorite, the golden navrattan curry over green beans, potatoes and other vegetables, had wonderful balance, with a touch of both sweetness and fire.

They were sauces that made us sit up and take notice. India Tandoor may not have the prime location or atmospheric polish of some of its well-known competitors, but its food rivals the best we've had in Baltimore.

Owners Jasvinder and Dilawar Khatkar opened the restaurant in April and have been steadily building their business, especially at lunch. They've decorated the restaurant in a jumble of prints and patterns, with rose floral fabric on glass-topped tables and a variety of Indian prints draped across walls.

Jasvinder served as our waitress, and helped us through the extensive menu as we nibbled crisp, spicy pappadums -- lentil crackers. Knowledgeable and serene, she made us feel as if we were dining in her home.

Following her suggestion, we started with mulligatawny soup, a thin broth full of tangy, lemony flavor and moist bits of chicken. It was excellent. Vegetable pakoras (vegetable fritters flecked with fennel seed and spinach) and a potato-and-pea-filled samosa (a fat, triangular pastry) were the best of what we sampled on combination appetizer platters. We spooned hot cilantro chutney and sweet-sour tamarind sauce on everything but the soup.

Jasvinder also recommended the chicken tikka masala. It's made with chunks of marinated, boneless chicken cooked in the tandoor oven, covered in that remarkable masala sauce and served on a sizzling platter.

We tried the flavorful chicken tikka as part of the India Tandoor grand platter, with other tandoor-oven-cooked meats and a lone shrimp on a bed of sliced onions and peppers. A chicken leg and thigh were juicy and perfectly cooked, but a roll of minced lamb and chunks of beef and lamb were dry. It may be best to order the chicken dishes separately, and the lamb simmered until tender in a dish like lamb saag.

Seafood items on the menu range from Malabar lobster in a "gravy of rare spices" to crab kovalam -- a dish flavored with freshly grated coconut and herbs. The shrimp biryani, a mild basmati-rice casserole, was seasoned with saffron and studded with tender, medium shrimp, green peas, slivered almonds and golden raisins. But the basmati rice that comes with other dishes is so good, ordering a biryani may seem redundant.

To round out our meal, we ordered condiments and breads: cool cucumber and yogurt raita, sweet, tangy mango chutney, freshly baked naan bread and poori bread, which was disappointingly greasy.

Besides the traditional Indian dessert gulab jamun (balls of fried dough in honey syrup), India Tandoor serves lovely homemade ice creams. They're icier and more exotic than American versions, and the perfect way to cool down after a spicy meal.

Want to suggest a restaurant for reviewing? We welcome your input. Send e-mail to kathhigham@aol.com or write to Kathryn Higham, Newsroom-Fifth Floor, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.

India Tandoor

Address: 2101 N. Charles St., entrance on 21st Street 410-468-0969

Hours: Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: Appetizers, $1.35-$5.95; entrees, $6.95-$15.95

Food: ***

Service: ***1/2

Atmosphere: **1/2

Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven, ** Poor, *

Pub Date: 8/12/99

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