Short on atmosphere but long on flavor, Tandoori King serves up the kind of cuisine which almost but not quite takes me back to the Indian restaurants of my youth. Growing up in a town with a significant Indian and Pakistani population, I was spoilt from an early age by a surprisingly fine array of credible eateries, offering rich and complex food, sometimes extremely spicy, at very reasonable prices. Subsequently, in my university town, I was exposed to laughably cheap but also stupefyingly authentic Southern Indian food which, if you weren't adequately prepared, could mount an assault on the tastebuds and other parts from which it could take days to recover.
Although there are several decent Indian restaurants in Indianapolis, I've only encountered a couple which really embrace the richness and diversity of this great national cuisine. Part of the reason for this might stem from a reluctance to offend the delicate Midwestern taste buds. Twenty years ago, I might have given this some credence, but we've grown up a bit since then, and can take it on the chin like true gastronomes.
In the past couple of months I've been fortunate to eat at a couple of very promising Indian establishments, both of which have taken their place at the top of my best-of list. Clay Oven I reviewed a few months ago. Tandoori King, situated on the far west side, offers a familiar selection of traditional dishes, with a few lesser-seen dishes thrown in for the more adventurous. There are five goat dishes on the menu, for example, as well an unrivaled selection of breads in addition to the more traditional naans and parathas.
On a recent visit, my wife and I stopped by to try the lunch buffet for $8.99, which is by far the best way to sample Tandoori King's elegant cuisine if you plan to return for dinner. In spite of a couple of obvious shortcomings on a quiet weekday (dried-out rice for instance), every dish was uniquely spiced, well-prepared and quite satisfying in itself. Particularly impressive, especially for this avowed carnivore, were the mattar paneer, a creamy dish of chick peas and cottage cheese, and the daal makhani, which I must admit has made me a new convert to lentil, especially since I gave up the lentil habit almost twenty years ago.
As for the meat dishes on offer, especially successful were the goat curry, quite lamby and complex, but by nature very bony. The chicken tandoori, a solid choice for the indecisive, was moist and nicely seasoned. The only disappointment was the butter chicken, which tasted a bit like Campbell's tomato soup, perhaps as a sly reference to chicken tikka masala, a bogus Indian dish created in Glasgow, Scotland.
To accompany lunch, I recommend the creamy yogurt-based mango lassi ($3.00), and the excellent garlic naan for an additional $2.50.