Considering that India is home to 1.2 billion people and at least 30 regional cuisines, it always mystifies me how much the menus of Buffalo's Indian restaurants overlap.
So when a new Indian restaurant opened on Delaware Avenue early this year, I hoped it would offer flavors and approaches that weren't merely different versions of familiar dishes.
In a recent visit, I spotted signs that Taj Grill's kitchen has at least a few off-speed pitches to throw. I can't say the differences are sweeping, but I'm confident the broad menu, with more than 180 dishes, holds a few more pleasant surprises.
We started with a range of appetizers, including samosas ($2.50) and beef samosas ($3), both two to an order. The regular samosas were stuffed with the usual spiced mashed potatoes, simple but decent. The beef numbers had a greaseless, savory ground beef mixture that was mildly spiced. Both samosas could have had flakier crusts but were still satisfying.
After seeing several tables order chicken Manchurian ($7.95) , I had to try it. Excellent decision, as it turned out, because it's a fine example of Chinese-Indian hybrid cuisine. It's six fried meatballs in a deeply flavored sweet-spicy sauce with red chile and cumin. Ordered mild, it wakened our taste buds without being overwhelming.
Our server brought a plate of vegetable Manchurian ($6.95) first. He left it when he learned of the mistake and brought the chicken version.
Coconut soup ($2.95) was a comforting, faintly sweet coconut milk broth flavored with mustard seed, toasted coconut, cumin and curry leaf, among other things.
Our reshmi kabab ($8.95), chopped spiced chicken skewered and fired in the tandoor oven, was served on a sizzle platter with onions, bell peppers and broccoli. We squeezed lemon wedges over the ensemble and enjoyed the tender, flavorful meat with caramelized onions scraped off the pan.
The onion bhaji ($2.95) were crispy clusters of sliced onion in chickpea flour, a solid version.
For mains, we ordered three chicken dishes: tandoori ($9.95), achari ($12.95) and malai ($11.95), as well as Kerala black peppercorn lamb ($12.95) and a vegetarian dish, saag paneer ($10.95).
The chicken tandoori was well-marinated chicken, slightly smoky from the tandoor's high heat, on a sizzle platter with onions, bell peppers and tomato. The achari arrived in similar fashion, but it was chunks of chicken breast that had been marinated in a pickle sauce, giving it a thin, tangy crust. The chicken malai was subtly spiced, and creamy with the tropical richness of coconut enveloping tender chunks of chicken.
The Kerala lamb was a more assertive dish, with a brown, tangy gravy studded with black cardamom pods, red chiles and whole peppercorns that crunched between your teeth. Despite the complexity, the flavor of tender lamb won through.
Saag paneer, creamed spinach with housemade cheese, was less cream-soaked than many Buffalo versions. It tasted like spinach first, then spices, cheese and cream, a more delicate version than I usually see.
The Taj Grill bread selection is also extensive. The basic naan ($1.95) was buttery and wholesome. The onion kulcha ($2.95) was filled with a generous layer of sweet onions. We also tried the "special bread" ($3.95) with minced chicken and onions, and thought that with the addition of cheese it would make an excellent inside-out white pizza.
Dessert choices included gulab jamun, fried milk balls in syrup ($2.95), rice pudding or kheer ($2.95) and khulfi, housemade ice cream (we chose mango, $3.25). The mango flavor and sweet cream won over tasters, who found the kheer pleasant if a bit thin. The galub jamun was judged overly sweet.
There's a lunch buffet daily, and a dinner buffet on Tuesdays. Once I spotted an interesting crispy fried fish puff at the dinner buffet; another evening, a correspondent spotted small eggplant cooked whole, split and stuffed with spices.
I'll be back. In the meantime, the Taj Grill is worth exploring.
Rating: 7 (Out of 10 plates)
New Indian restaurant's broad menu?has a number of delicious discoveries.
WHERE: 2290 Delaware Ave. ?(875-1000, www.tajgrill.net)
HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., ?dinner 4:30 to 10 p.m. daily.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers $2.50-$8.95; entrees $4.95-$16.95; lunch buffet $8.95.
PARKING: In the lot.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.