Old Metairie: 923-C Metairie Rd. 504-836-6859. Map.
AE DC DS MC V
WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
This old Indian restaurant is one of the most improved restaurants in town in the past year or so. The dining room staff is more numerous and sharper. The menu is full of interesting new dishes, including a full page of the rarely-encountered southern Indian food and Goan cuisine. The changes are so dramatic that on my first recent visit I thought the place had changed hands. (It hasn't.)
WHY IT'S GOOD
The kitchen boasts a tandoor, the hot clay oven for roasting chicken, lamb, beef, sausage, and seafood. All of that is good, simple, low-fat eating, and an illustrative introduction to Indian food. They make something like forty kinds of curries, each with its own flavor. The best work is done in the lamb and vegetarian departments, but all of it is exciting eating. Like all Indian restaurants, there's a buffet at lunch. The food stands up to that service method better than most, but it's still better to order a la carte.
The Taj Mahal was the first Indian restaurant ever to open in New Orleans, in 1982. Anila Keswani and her late husband Har had a tough battle persuading Orleanians to try what in those days was a very exotic cuisine. They stuck with it, moving from one location to another and opening other restaurants (they also own Nirvana) along the way.
The restaurant is at the end of a driveway in an old, haphazardly renovated, utilitarian space. It's decorated in an Indian style, but with none of the grandeur suggested by the name. Tables are pushed wherever they fit; you might have to do some mild acrobatics to get into or out of a chair. Let's just say you don't come here for atmosphere. The service staff is much improved during recent times, and shows a new eagerness to help diners who need advice on the menu.
Seenk kebab (spicy lamb sausage)
Biryanis (rice studded with various meats, seafoods, and vegetables)
Chicken tikka masala (basic curry)
Navrattan curry (vegetarian)
Saag lamb, chicken, or paneer cheese (with a spicy creamed spinach sauce)
Chili paneer (very peppery dish of pepper and roasted cubes of fresh cheese)
Lamb rogan josh (spicy lamb chops)
Foil chicken (with mushrooms, onions, and peppers)
Halvo (carrot pudding)
FOR BEST RESULTS
Even though you have to pay extra for it, don't fail to order some of the homemade breads, particularly the naan flatbread. Indian restaurants lend themselves to dish-sharing, as in Chinese restaurants. Remember that the place closes on Tuesdays.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The ragtag premises no doubt keep many would-be customers away. Someday they've got to move into nicer quarters.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment -2
- Consistency +1
- Service +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar
- Hipness +1
- Local Color -2
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open some holidays
- Unusually large servings
- Quick, good meal
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Indian food continues to have a tough time attracting a clientele in New Orleans. The problem is a widely-held misapprehension: that all Indian dishes have what Americans identify as a "curry" flavor and a high pepper level. In fact, they grind and blend their own spices here, and the range of flavors and spice level is as wide as in any other kind of restaurant. It's an easy cuisine to get to love. Indeed, it has been shown to be actually addictive.
The Taj Mahal seems to have convinced enough customers of all this that it has become quite busy. At lunch, you're limited to the buffet. But that provides a fine meal for well under ten dollars, and even toward the end of the lunch period everything remains freshly made and tasty.
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