"Authentic regional eats and a side of spicy nightlife at Westside’s Tadkaa
With its Colts posters, “Welcome Race Fans” banners and scantily clad women dancing on an eye-popping array of TVs and big-screen monitors, Tadkaa doesn’t make you think too hard to know you’re in a bar on the Westside. Indeed, everything from its selection of flavored vodkas to its lounge area furnished with comfy, low-slung seating smacks of a typical Indy watering hole. But there are no burgers or wings on this bar’s menu. And beers with names like Kingfisher and Taj Mahal may just be more popular than Miller or Bud.
That Tadkaa, open since mid-December, offers up more Bollywood and cricket matches than MTV and NBA playoff games should come as no surprise, given Indy’s increasing international population. A couple of decades after Indian nationals started arriving in greater numbers in Indianapolis, Tadkaa offers evidence of an ethnic population that is large and diverse enough to assert regional tastes and sensibilities. No longer is “Indian” synonymous with “lunch buffet.” In many ways, this gathering spot cum authentic Indian eatery emphasizing “fursat” (leisure) and “mohabbat” (passion) is a good primer in some lesser-known aspects of Indian culture.
You might assume, for instance, that India’s 1.1 billion residents are a teetotaling lot of devout Hindus and Muslims, but the central Asian nation became the world’s largest market for whiskey in 2003, and India continues to be one of the hottest spots for global beer brewers. Tadkaa features four of the most popular Indian-made lagers.
Besides its atypical atmosphere, the menu offers up a number of surprises as well. Don’t expect the typical papadum flatbread to arrive at your table as soon as you sit down. Here, you’re greeted with a bowl of crisp puffed rice, onto which you spoon more familiar sauces of tamarind and cilantro. It’s a little disconcerting for those used to eating milk on their Rice Krispies, but it’s tasty and, in a way, easier to eat than papadum.
Appetizers aren’t just the usual samosas either. Peas kachori ($3.99) are delicious and crisp split pea and lentil croquettes; makai bhel ($2.99) is a curious salad heavy with corn, as well as boiled potatoes and a light, sweet dressing. While it’s a tad pricey for a starter, the sheekh kabob ($10.99) is one of the best kabobs in town, with deliciously spiced, tender ground goat sizzling on top of grilled onions and peppers. As with much of Tadkaa’s cuisine, the meat emphasized the tangier and sweeter side of Indian flavors, offering a dining experience distinct from just about any other Indian restaurant in town.
Unfortunately, the food was slightly inconsistent from one visit to the next. Tandoor-grilled lamb ($11.99) in an onion sauce was a bit bland one night. But spring goat ($11.99) in a somewhat different onion sauce with plenty of tomato was delectable another night. Service, too, can be scattershot. On one visit, our waiter, the owner, made sure we were attended to but gave us our space. The night we returned, however, a host of new staffers were apparently being trained; service was by committee, and we could hardly get a mouthful in between their many visits to the table. As the place started to fill up, however, Tadkaa definitely did live up to its mission of being a lively, diverse gathering place.
Among dishes you won’t get elsewhere in town, Northern Indian potato dumplings ($7.99) were filled with a variety of tasty ground vegetables in a luscious, if slightly over-salted, cashew sauce. From a list of Western Indian dishes, baby eggplant stir-fried with peanuts ($5.99) was unlike anything we’d had, the peanuts adding just the richness needed to complete the eggplant, which retained a good texture despite being quite tender. Breads were quite good, especially a nicely grilled garlic naan ($2.50). Methi parathas ($2.50) were a lot like the garlic naan, buttery though without much flavor from a dusting of the spice fenugreek.
Dessert was novel both in flavor and presentation. Cellophane noodles in sweet milk flavored with rose syrup ($3.99) can be topped with pistachio ice cream in two tall pilsners borrowed from the bar. It was fun work trying to fish the noodles up out of the tall glasses, and it was definitely one of the many unusual and unique things that only Tadkaa can offer.
4150 Lafayette Road
Monday-Friday: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; 5-10 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday: noon-3 p.m.; 5-10 p.m.
Food: Three and a half stars
Atmosphere: Three stars
Service: Three stars
Nonsmoking, Handicapped accessible
Recommended dishes: Sheekh kabob, spring goat in onion sauce, baby eggplant with peanuts, garlic naan