We have been waiting with some anticipation for the opening of Taj Mahal. After all, it takes chutzpah to open a brand new Indian restaurant within a block of another and within a mile of a third.
Unfortunately, even after the restaurant opened, we had to wait some more. Menu service was unavailable for more than a month. Every time we stopped by for the buffet, we were told menus were just a few days away. Once when we were describing items on a buffet, the host asked if we could write down our descriptions. We had started to downgrade our high hopes for Taj Mahal.
Recently, the restaurant finally debuted its full menu. Much of what we sampled showed promise, but Taj Mahal continued to struggle with service.
On our first visit, our dining companions raved over the number of selections and the number of selections not available at other local Indian restaurants, such as Karahi chicken and goat Palak.
Service lagged. Maybe 25 minutes after we arrived, we got our drink orders. Fifteen minutes later, our waiter took our food orders, but tamped down our frustration with an appetizer of cumin papadum with two sauces — a very spicy-sweet tamarind sauce and a creamy dill-cilantro sauce. These received high raves.
Our entrees started to arrive some 30 minutes later, in bits and bobs. There was some confusion on the part of the wait staff as to who had ordered what, but for the most part we received what we had originally selected, though we had to ask repeatedly for napkins. As for the food, we were especially pleased by the mixed grill ($21.95). Advertised as a combination of shish kebab and chicken kebab with vegetables "served with our famous white sauce," we were confused when we received a sizzling hot platter that contained not only the kebabs but pieces of tandoori chicken, tandoori shrimp and Seekh Kebab as well. The "famous white sauce" was nowhere to be found. Still, we rather enjoyed the shrimp and the two varieties of chicken. The seekh kebab was very strong on mint and lime flavors, and the chunks of lamb shish kebab were delightfully charred on the outside yet pot-roast tender on the inside.
Two of our companions chose the chicken vindaloo ($12.95), one the regular order and one spicy. The regular vindaloo had a rather pungent kick of heat to it; the strongly spicy one actually caused our friend with the high spice tolerance to jump at the heat. We laughed at his immediate sweat, but admired his tenacity for finishing the dish.
The lamb korma ($15.95) was another spicy dish. At other local Indian restaurants, it's a sweet, mild dish; here it had a significant heat that went straight to the sinuses.
One companion chose the kahari chicken ($12.50), advertised as "boneless chicken sauteed with onions, garlic, ginger, green peppers, and tomatoes in a wok to produce a uncommonly delicious dish, flavored with herbs and spices." She was overwhelmed with the spicy nature of the dish, and when she asked our waiter about it he went right back and had the order redone in a milder version.
There were some mix-ups — one diner received a kahari chicken instead of the chicken curry ordered. The rice to accompany our dishes came out very late. But we did find some great dishes, including the chicken keema naan — naan stuffed with ground chicken and spices — that were irresistible.
In all, the food at Taj Mahal is first rate and on the spicy side, but the slow service and the learning curve of the wait staff must improve before we can truly recommend it. After more than a month, the kinks should have already been worked out.
1520 Market St. (Market Street Shopping Center)
Taj Mahal offers a lunch buffet for $8.99 that regularly includes four meat and four vegetarian hot dishes, rice, samosas, a couple of desserts and fresh fruit. Hot naan is brought right to the table. We found it to be a much better deal than evening service, though we still wonder if there will be more than just chicken offered in their hot meat dish selection.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Taj Mahal is on the pricey side. Beer and wine served.