Thursday, June 25, 2009

Woot! Indian food!

I may have mentioned before that I really like spicy food. Since I’ve been in southwest Florida the cuisine I’ve missed most is Ethiopian, which generally has a great mixture of strong flavors. I haven’t found an Ethiopian restaurant yet. The other cuisine I’ve really missed is Indian which is also known for full-flavored food and can usually be made spicy. Driving home last night I passed an Indian restaurant and I couldn’t resist giving it a try.

Tandoor is the name of the place which is on Clark, just west of Beneva. I drove into the strip mall around 9:15pm and I suspected it might be closed. The parking lot for the whole mall was empty as the nearby Publix had closed. I drove by slowly and there didn’t seem to be any lights on. I did see a sign that said Open, but it was hard to tell if it was Tandoor or the place next to it. Feeling a little adventurous (you can think of me as the Indiana Jones of strip mall dining) I decided to park my car and investigate further.

The Open sign was indeed theirs and it even had the hours listed on it… they close at 10:00. I opened the door and peeked inside. It’s very dark in there and it took a minute to adjust. Other than a waiter and two employees at the bar the place was completely empty. Not a good omen, usually. But remembering that Sarasota is more of an Italian food sorta place, and Indian cuisine is almost as far away as you can get from Italian, I figured I’d give it shot anyway.

Service starts out reasonably good. I manage to get seated right away (one nice benefit of a completely empty restaurant). The waiter was courteous and very chatty. However, he is an authentic east Indian fellow with an extremely thick accent… I couldn’t understand a word he said. I just nodded, assumed he was taking a drink order, and asked for water.

The menu looks pretty normal for an Indian place. Various meats are available in 5 or 6 types of sauces plus a bunch of vegetarian dishes. Having been deprived for almost 9 months of Indian food my eyes looked for, and found, my all time favorite dish… Chicken Vindaloo. My mouth started watering immediately.

The waiter came back with my water and said some things. Again, having been through this routine before, I imagined he was asking what I wanted so I ordered the Chicken Vindaloo and some Nan. After he said something else and wandered away my brain finally translated what he was asking and it wasn’t food related. Apparently he had noticed that the candle on my table was unlit and would I like him to light it for me. When he came back by I smiled and pointed to the candle and he obliged.

Right about the time my order arrived some more customers came in. It was close to 9:40 now. The owner (whom I had mistaken for an employee earlier) came out and greeted them. As an afterthought she greeted me too. I don’t blame her for being less than enthusiastic when I arrived with on 45 minutes to close… but now her business had quadrupled, something to get a little excited about. She seems very nice and was much easier to understand than her wait staff.

(BTW, my inability to understand Indian accents is notorious in some circles and should in no way reflect negatively on the folks at Tandoor. I’m sure the waiter spoke perfect English, I’m just terrible at understanding that accent.)

Now, finally for the food. The Chicken Vindaloo was really, really spicy, which is just how I like it. For the average diner in Sarasota I wouldn’t recommend it… it will blow your mind. Vindaloo is an extremely spicy curry and more than likely the hottest dish they have. This particular Vindaloo had a slightly different flavor than what I’m used to having, but it was good nonetheless.

The nan was ok. If you’ve never had nan before, it is an excellent flat bread baked in the tandoor oven. This nan had a good flavor but was very fluffy… a characteristic I’d never encountered before in other nan. This made the texture much less appealing to me but was good for toning down the fire that the vindaloo had created in my mouth.

My strongest criticism is reserved for cleanliness. There may have been a good reason to have the light dimmed so low, it a little hard to tell. But one thing I did notice is that the cloth napkin was definitely pre-used. At most restaurants it would be sort of shocking to find big smears of red sauce on your napkin. For some reason this is par for the course with Indian restaurants. Jesting aside, I’d say that 3 out of 5 Indian restaurants seem “dirty” to me. Tandoor was in good shape until I unfolded the napkin to wipe off some stray vindaloo.

The other criticism is the price. While I was overall pretty happy with my food I felt my dinner check was about 20% higher than average Indian restaurants. Typically I’d walk out having spent somewhere around $16, but this tab was $20 without the tip.

Will I eat here again? Yes. Probably not too often as it’s a little further than I like to go for supper, and the price is a little higher than I’d like, but the food is good and I definitely don’t want to wait another 9 months before I have Indian food again.

Here are some particulars:

Tandoor Fine Indian Cuisine
3440 Clark Rd
Sarasota, FL 34231
The web site is nice and informative, and appears up to date.

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