It had been a long week on the road by the time I pulled into my hotel in northeast Indianapolis one evening around Christmastime. Not wanting to travel much in the month of December, I found myself staying in yet another hotel room over 4 hours from home. Sort of down in the dumps and burnt out from the travel, I wanted to get something different for dinner that particular evening but I wasn't sure what I wanted. I went to the front desk and I asked the girl if there were any brewpubs in the immediate area. She didn't know of any, but a guy standing there piped up that there was a sports bar that had a lot of beers to choose from not far from the hotel.
I ended up going there, but when I walked in the place was packed. It was loud and I'd had enough of dealing with people at that point. I turned around and walked out and took off back down 82nd St. near the Castleton Square Mall. Looking over to my right, I spied a place in strip mall - Taj of India. I quickly made the turn into the parking lot. (See map)
Actually, the parking lot was sort of full and I was worried that there would be a lot of people in the restaurant. But it turned out that a beauticians school was right next door to Taj of India and most of the cars in the parking lot were for people in there. When I went into Taj of India, there was only one other couple having dinner. I didn't know if that was a good sign or not. It was after 8 p.m., but I still thought more people would have been in the place. But it was quiet and would require only minimum interaction with other people.
Taj of India has been around since 1995. The original owner, Deep Mand, turned the reins over to Churdip Mand (don't know if that's a son or daughter or even if it's a relative), and Gurdap Singh. Taj of India is sort of locally famous for their lunch buffet they serve from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily. Their dinner hours are 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., seven days a week.
The dining room isn't all that large, but it still probably sat 50 to 60 people comfortably. A number of larger table that sat six people were in the center of the restaurant, while smaller tables ringed the walls. The lights were somewhat subdued in the place, but not dark enough that it was difficult to read the menu or the Indianapolis Star newspaper that I brought in.
I was seated at a table along the front wall of the restaurant. A young guy was the host and waiter. He asked me if I wanted anything to drink and I asked for a Kingfisher. He looked over in the glass-doored refrigerator and he said, "I'm so sorry, sir. We are currently out of Kingfisher." He gave me some other possibilities of Indian beers - Godfather, Haywards, Taj Mahal. I wasn't familiar with the first two, but I was with the Taj Mahal. I got a large bottle of that.
He brought me back my beer and a menu. The menu was rather extensive at Taj of India with a number of Tandoori and vegetarian dishes, along with a large number of chicken, lamb and seafood entrees. They also had a number of rice-based entrees, as well. I was having a lot of trouble trying to figure out what I wanted.
The shrimp vindaloo sounded good to me - shrimp and potatoes in a spicy vindaloo sauce. I do like vindaloo sauce, but I wanted to try it with shrimp instead of chicken. I then saw the chicken tikka masala - chicken chunks in a homemade masala sauce with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes. Ummm... that was a possibility. Then I saw the chicken mushroom - chicken chunks with fresh mushrooms in a creamy tomato sauce. Boy, I was really having trouble.
But at the top of the chicken part of the menu was the chicken curry - lightly seasoned boneless chicken chunks in a curry sauce complemented with other spices. The waiter came back over and asked if I was ready to order and I ordered the chicken curry. He asked how I wanted it prepared, "Medium or hot?" I said I wanted it somewhere in the middle - medium-hot, if he could do it. He asked if I wanted any naan bread to go along with the chicken curry. Absolutely! They had a bunch of different types of naan breads on the menu and I was torn between the ginger naan or the garlic naan - both topped with cilantro. I hemmed for a second and finally went with the garlic naan. I'm glad I did.
About 10 minutes after I ordered, the young man brought my food out to me and did it look good. One thing that I have a little problem with at Indian restaurants is the amount of rice that they bring to the table. With the garlic naan and the chicken curry, there was no way I would be able to make a healthy dent in the large bowl of rice he brought out. I did spoon out a little rice onto my plate and dumped the chicken curry on top.
Now, I'm far from an expert on Indian food but I do know if I like something or not. And I REALLY liked the chicken curry at Taj of India. It had a little spicy kick to it - the medium-hot was tolerable and I concluded that I probably would have been able to have it a little more hot in spiciness. But the overall taste of the spices mixed together with the curry was just outstanding. Dropping some of the curry chicken onto the very good - and very pungent - garlic naan was another taste treat. The smell of the spices permeated the area around my table and the overall taste of the meal as a whole was simply wonderful. I made short work of the chicken curry and used the garlic naan to sop up the remaining curry sauce from the bowl. I was like a man devouring his first meal in weeks. The garlic naan was so good that I ate the whole piece - something that I regretted doing. But it was so damn good.
Compared to other Indian restaurants I've been to, the service at Taj of India was pretty good. Granted, there was only one other couple at the place that night. But the young guy came back and checked on me to see how my meal was going on a couple occasions. And the price of the meal was pretty good, too. The chicken curry was $10.99 and the garlic naan was $2.95. The Taj Mahal beer was the kicker - it was $7.99 for a 22 ounce bottle. Ouch!
Back at the hotel, the aroma of the curry sauce and the garlic from the naan bread was still on my hands. I had a helluva time getting the smell off even after multiple hand-washings and a subsequent shower the next day. I don't know if those aromas were burned into my olfactory system, but I swear to God that I was still smelling the curry sauce and the garlic well into the next day. It was too bad that I wasn't in Indianapolis for another night because I would have gone back to Taj of India the next night and gotten the shrimp curry. I'm serious. It was that good. Like I say, I don't know if it compares well to other Indian restaurants, but Taj of India tripped my trigger. To me, it was absolutely fabulous. As I broaden my knowledge of Indian cuisine, Taj of India may be the standard I use from here on out. I'm certainly glad I went there rather than gotten a sandwich or burger at a loud sports bar. It was the perfect food at the perfect time.
(Update - I've been told that Taj of India was purchased in the fall of 2012 and has been transformed into Amber Indian Restaurant, a Carmel, IN-based Indian food restaurant opening their second location on 82nd St. I'll have to go back at some point and give Amber Indian a try.)