While growing up, my mother excelled at many things--particularly when it came to feeding a family of 7 on a meager budget. She was a master at stretching a dollar. It was only when it came to the use of spices in cooking that she lacked the know how or confidence to experiment. Except for when it came to my favorite childhood dish--Curry Tuna. A simple dish with a lovely marriage of 2 strong flavors. I can still remember that aroma wafting through the house. To this day, it's impossible for me to resist taking a deep breathe of the curry powder whenever I open the bottle for a recipe. During my childhood, curry aroma = joy. The smell of liver and onions = dread and sadness.
And today, that same feeling of joy comes over me when I open the door and walk into an Indian restaurant, like Salem's new Taj Mahal. It's difficult to tell which interior improvements are the new tenant's or from the "2 Doors Down" remodel several years back. I appreciate walking into an establishment that's well tended or redone. It gives me (a customer) the feeling that the owners have a sense of pride in their business.
N and I have visited twice, and since both experiences were good ones I'll try and include bits from both. The first time was 8 PM on a Saturday evening and the second at 6:45 PM on a Wednesday-- for dinner. We were warmly greeted by 3 pleasant young women and seated in a booth towards the back, across the dining area from a wall mounted television. As I leafed through to the last page of their menu, I noticed they offered a Thali dinner. Which offers a diner the opportunity to try several different (pre-assigned) Indian dishes, without having to order 3-4 different dishes. N decided to order the same thing, and added an order of Vegetable Samosas for an appetizer.
As you can see from the photo above, the 2 Vegetable Samosas were generous in size--nearly a meal unto themselves. They were deep-fried with a crisp exterior and filled with an almost creamy, savory, combination of spices, potatoes and peas. During our second visit we opted to skip the appetizer so we could share 3 dishes without stretching the belts. We were treated to a saucer of the thinnest and lightest poppodums/pappads I've eaten. The somewhat large sheets were still warm with a slight sheen of hot oil glistening here and there. We broke off pieces and dipped into the delicious coriander and tamarind (?) chutneys until we had to tip the container for the last possible drop.
During our first visit, between the generous, tender wedges of fresh naan, the jasmine rice and the three just right servings of Dal Makhani, Lamb Korma and Chicken Tikka Masala, N and I were in Indian food heaven. The flavors and freshness we experienced at Taj Mahal tasted brighter and a bit more intense than dishes we've had at other area Indian restaurants. We specified medium heat in all of our dishes and it's exactly what we received.
When we returned, we shared Garlic Naan, Tandoori Mixed Grill, Aloo Gobi and Lamb Saag. Once again, we were very pleased with every delicious bite. Thank goodness for naan! It makes it acceptable to make a clean sweep of the plate after finishing with a fork. Also, while looking over their vegetarian entrees and eating the Aloo Gobi (cauliflower and potato combination), I realized how easy it would be to enjoy a delicious Indian vegetarian spread. So many delicious sounding entrees!
I hope they create a "to go" menu to make it easier to call in and pick up a curry "to go". Please let us know if you've had a chance to try out their buffet. And the rest of you--if you haven't given them a try you're missing out.
1220 State ST (right between Sassy Onion and Adam's Ribs)
Salem, OR 97301