Indian food in Dallas has almost gotten to the level of Mexican food:You can expect to find a usable Indian restaurant within reasonable driving distance from anywhere in the area.
The name Taj Mahal inspires lofty expectations, even though you know they're unfounded--ridiculously so, in the case of the Dallas restaurant by that name. This is no more than a good, midpriced Indian restaurant, but more remarkably, for Dallas, it's no less.
A shopping strip is an unlikely location for the most beautiful temple in the world, but an unfortunate number of good Dallas restaurants are housed in them because that's all the architecture the developers have left us. This one parallels the war zone that is currently Central Expressway.
Inside, however, the Taj Mahal somehow manages to be an attractive restaurant--warm and colorful, with gilded lace mats under glass tabletops. Once the food starts coming, it doesn't matter much what the restaurant looks like, anyway.
The menu is typical of a Dallas Indian restaurant, basically focusing on the foods of Northern India, which pleases the North Dallas palate. Many things are cooked in the tandoor, which appeals to the indigenous taste for grilled meat, and there are lots of curries, for palates weaned on chilies.
We started with samosas, lightly fried and traditionally filled with soft potatoes and peas, a too-fuzzy textural combination that never sounds good to me but somehow doesn't cloy, probably because of the crisp pastry casing.
For chooza pakora, read "chicken fingers," though purveyors of endemic fast food could take a tip from the tenderizing yogurt marinade these chicken strips had experienced. These fingers even a grown-up could love.
The cucumbers in the kachumbar salad had been waiting a little long. The fresh, crisp wetness had metamorphosed into slime.
The madras soup, tomato broth with coconut, was an ethereal version. Helen Corbitt once published a recipe for "boula boula" soup which calls for a can each of concentrated green pea and green turtle soup, mixed together. Madras soup has always seemed to be susceptible to the two-can approach--a can of cream of tomato and half a can of coconut cream and I think you'd have it--but Taj Mahal's tomato soup seemed to have a lighter touch.
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The Vegetarian Delight is a tray holding dishes and bowls filled mostly with purees as though vegetarians, as a group, have lost the use of their molars. Saag paneer, known to some of us as creamed spinach, is given the added tang of yogurt cheese; exotically seasoned black dal, or lentils, are also creamed, and yogurt rounds out the platter. The only true chewables are the side orders of bread--flaky, buttery paratha, sweet whole-wheat, puffy fried puri to tear open and fill with dal, and delicate white-flour naan.
--Mary Brown Malouf
Taj Mahal, N. Central & Meadow, 692-0535. Open for lunch Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. For dinner Sunday-Friday, 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
Beef Vindaloo $10.50
Vegetarian Delight $11.95
Chooza Pakora $2.95
Madras Soup $2.50
Aloo Paratha $2.50
Chicken Biryani $10.50