Originally published in the June 2016 issue of Dispatch Magazine
One of my least favorite kinds of food snobs is the type who turns up their nose at a restaurant solely on its proximity to the mall. These are the same people who get a warm, fuzzy feeling overpaying at whatever James WHO? Award–winning restaurants they can get a table at just so they can tell their friends they did.
By leading this kind of life, they’ll miss out on Taj, a small, no-frills Indian eatery nestled in the back of an Olive Garden parking lot, right next to a bunch of dumpsters. They will be completely oblivious to the existence of the world’s absolute greatest buffet, priced criminally low at $9.99 per person. And they’ll never have the opportunity to explore the sprawling dinner menu, which spans myriad regions of India with incredible finesse.
This dining type would probably also be upset that they aren’t greeted by a server within 178 seconds of sitting down, and that their food isn’t on the table six minutes later. However, a bit of patience will reward them with dishes like onion mirchi bajji ($1.49), spicy deep-fried jalapeños stuffed with onion and battered with chickpea flour, or the Southern Indian crepe-like staple, dosa, served with a variety of fillings and dipping sauces ($5.49–8.49). The food arrives whenever it’s done, but I can guarantee that the gobi 65 ($7.99 — and not to be confused with Eiffel 65, creators of that “Blue [Da Ba Dee]” song), vibrantly seasoned cauliflower gently simmered in yogurt and citrus, as well as the cholle batura ($8.99), essentially fried dough served with tender chickpeas, will be delicious whenever the hell they arrive.
One thing I’m guilty of, especially when it comes to Indian cuisine, is ordering the exact same thing time and time again. On a recent visit, though, my departure from the lamb khorma into unfamiliar territory was rewarded with mind-numbingly great dishes, like Green Chicken ($11.99), simmered with a fiery sauce driven by finely chopped hibiscus sabdariffa. The navaratan khorma ($12.99), described as a “royal entrée” and consisting of nine vegetables simmered in a beautiful, sunflower-hued cream sauce, was so delectable that it may very well replace its lamb-bearing cousin in my rotation.
The skill of Taj’s chefs is showcased brilliantly with their tandoori chicken ($19.99 full, $11.99 half), which arrives nuclear-hot, straight from the clay oven. It practically falls off the bone, and gets even better when wrapped in coconut naan and laden with a cooling dollop of raita.
All of this deliciousness is best accompanied by a mango lassi — especially if you’re skittish around unapologetically spicy food.
If, after the meal, mall-side dining still seems pedestrian to you, you can always head over to Williams–Sonoma and purchase a $130 All-Clad wok and a $50 box of “finishing salts” to assure yourself that you are, in fact, still among the culinary elite.
200 Gorham Road #8, South Portland | 207-828-6677 | tajofmaine.com