Entering Tandoor Fine Indian Cuisine's capacious space on any evening, I've wondered whether the room ever fills up. Presumably most traffic in its mini-mall location clears out after 5 p.m., so at dinnertime, you seem to have this oversize dining room all to yourself.
This ratio permits, to the extent that staff is interested, personalized, if a bit undemonstrative, service. Nevertheless, glasses stay full, and the food — typical of curries spiced with turmeric, coriander, cumin and ginger, and of tandoori grills found at most Indian restaurants — is consistently fresh and hot.
There's even the occasional freebie — an upside of distracted service — such as the creamy dahl makhni with delicate black lentils. Its rich mouth feel with little pops of legumes and layers of curry flavor was comfort food on a cold night. At another meal, a delicious mango pudding (not even on the menu) showed up unbidden as dessert.
If you're just after a snack, assorted vegetarian appetizers ($5.95) of doughy samosas (aka turnovers), crisp potato pakoras (fritters) and peppery pappadums — and an Indian beer, spicy cilantro and chili dip, and onion relish — will do the trick. For an extra $1, you can get a more substantial tandoori medley: a seekh kebab of ground lamb, a couple of small shrimp and a few succulent chunks of chicken tikka. The tikka is done very well here, whether simply marinated in yogurt or bathed in mint, cilantro, and ... food coloring, resulting in the electrifyingly green entree, the "jungle kebab" ($12.95).
If you're ordering a curry, however, medium spicy seems to be the Goldilocks rule. "Hot" is for those who enjoy the challenging rush, and "mild" always works for the more level-headed.
Any spice in the chicken saag ($11.95) will be offset by its creamy sauce with spinach. Also rich is the kofta lajawab ($10.95), balls of paneer (soft cheese) mixed with vegetables and deep-fried; their texture, which was gummy rather than light and fluffy, made this my least favorite entree.
Honestly, so many Indian restaurants have overdosed me with frying, ghee and cream that I've come to prefer lighter dishes, such as the medium spicy aloo gobhi, or potatoes and cauliflower ($10.95); its sauce resembled stewed tomatoes in sweetness but had punchy heat at the finish. Lamb vindaloo ($12.95), a hot and spicy South Indian specialty associated with the era of Portuguese colonialism, also is tomato-based but is tricked up with chilis and punctuated by the bite of vinegar and a handful of chopped cilantro.
All curries are served with simple basmati rice, but for extra inspiration, treat yourself to a biryani ($12.95 for lamb), rice baked with yogurt and given oomph from raisins, onion and cashews.
Another great side is, of course, naan, India's beloved chewy flatbread, sometimes studded with garlic slivers or stuffed with paneer and onions (both $2.95). Tandoor's was not as smoky and blistered as it could and should have been, but it was satisfying nonetheless. (One of these days I am going to check out these kitchens to see whether there really is a tandoor oven back there.)
My only real complaint was with the gulab jaman ($3.95). This dessert of syrup-soaked, semolina- or farina-based doughnut holes had a metallic taste and a coarse, almost grainy texture, versus one that was tender and soft.
Lovers of Indian food will find few surprises here, but it's a convenient stop after shopping or catching a film in Hamburg, or for those who live and work near Mapleleaf Drive.