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Spice road
Tuesday, 30 July 2013
ImageComplex flavors are the signature of Taaj Palace, a standout among the Duke City’s Indian eateries

By Chloë Winegar-Garrett

I’ve always had a weak spot for Indian food. When I was a kid my mom took my sister and me to our first Indian restaurant and it was exciting to try new flavors and food that we had never tried before! Just before I went into labor with my son, I chose as my “last meal” Indian food because it usually tastes amazing (and I figured it would kick-start labor). Given all that, a recent meal at Taaj Palace did not disappoint; in fact it only elevated my love of Indian food.

My husband and I, sans baby, walked into a comfortable space with an overall rust color scheme. To our right was a small but well-stocked market with everything ranging from cooking oil to spices to clothes. Right away we were greeted by an employee and seated at a table. Advertisements for belly-dancing performances on Friday nights and Bollywood movie showings decorated the walls.

The lunch buffet smelled awesome, but we wanted to sample the Taaj Palace menu. We started off with an Indian beer called Flying Horse ($7.50) and an Iced Masala Chai Tea ($3), similar to a Thai tea but not syrupy-sweet. The 750 ml (about 25 ounce) Flying Horse lager was light yet complex in flavor, and it was absolutely a great beer, complementing every dish we ordered.

It was hard to choose, but fortunately there were options such as the Chef’s Assortment of appetizers, which included the Samose (potato in a pastry) and four Pakore dishes (deep-fried): shrimp, chicken, vegetable and house-made paneer ($7). This plate arrived very quickly and piping hot, each piece fried to perfection and not overpowering the other flavors. Complimentary Papadum, those giant crackery things,  arrived as well, with boldly flavored spicy mint sauce and Tamarind chutney.

ImageThere was also the option of a bread basket with Aloo Paratha, Onion Kulcha and Garlic Naan ($7) which we decided to try, but it really is a lot of bread — perfect for a large group of people instead of only two. In addition we got two condiments, Mango Chutney ($2) and Mixed Pickled ($2). While the Mango Chutney was mediocre, the Mixed Pickles were salty and spicy, with a note of flavor we could not quite pin down, making it hard to not eat more and more as we tried to figure it out.

For the main courses, we chose Tikka Masala with Lamb ($15), Phall Curry with Chicken ($15) and Saag Paneer ($11), all served with basmati rice. We also chose the Palace Mixed Grill of Tandoori ($17) and the Gateway to India beer ($7.50), which was darker and held up well to the spicier, meaty dishes.

My husband is a spice fanatic, so we ordered the Phall Curry, which carries the warning of being extremely spicy. This sort of spice is not immediate, but rather one that builds up subtly and to the point it
hurts so good. In general it is not the most painful spice we have ever tried, but it was a strong balance of flavors that never overpowered the chicken or sauce. The lamb in the Tikka Masala was divine and savory, and the Saag Paneer is a true comfort food, with the cheese working well with the creamy spinach.

Tandoori is the ultimate in flavorful meat. There’s a variety of meat on the menu cooked tandoor-style, with boneless lamb chop (Lamb Boti Kabob), lamb sausage (Lamb Sheekh Kabob), boneless chicken (Chicken Tikka Kabob), chicken thigh and drumstick (Tandoori Chicken) and shrimp (Tandoori Shrimp). These meats are marinated in yogurt and spices then grilled over charcoal, creating a crispy outside layer of smoky flavor.

If you have room for dessert, there is a great selection to choose from. We chose the Pista Kulfi ($4), a homemade ice cream with pistachio, and Badamee Kheer ($4), an almond rice pudding, which both were refreshing mellow flavors after a complex meal.

Although I may be a bit biased when it comes to Indian food, there is no question that Taaj Palace exceeds expectations in both hospitality and quality of food. I cannot honestly think of a negative part of the whole meal. If you have never tasted Indian food, give it a try, especially with the array of food at the buffet. If you love Indian food already, Taaj Palace, hands-down, makes some of the best Indian food around.

Taaj Palace

1435 Eubank NE, 505.296.0109
Hours: 11a-2:30p, 5-10p, daily

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