Our Gourmet: Indian spices warm a cold winter's night

January 02. 2018 9:31PM
The Taj Special Biryani at Taj India features lamb, chicken, shrimp and vegetables in saffron Basmati rice. 
Taj India
47 E. Pearl St., Nashua; 864-8586; tajindia.co

Tuesday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m and 5-9:30 p.m.; Sunday opening at noon; closed Monday. Lunch buffet Thursday-Sunday.

Cuisine: Indian.

Pricing: Lunch menu $10.95 or under; appetizers $3-$10.95; entrees $12.95-$16.95.

Handicapped access: Steps up to main dining area and bar.

Scores for Taj India:
Atmosphere: 16/20
Menu: 18/20
Food: 18/20
Service: 15/20
Value: 19/20
TOTAL: 86/100

Last time we checked in with you, we reviewed Crane, the simple but excellent Japanese/Chinese restaurant, and talked about how Pearl Street may have the most restaurant-heavy three blocks in Nashua. This time, with a rather tight dining window because of the holidays, we decided to continue exploring this tasty Gate City side street.

Taj India has been open on East Pearl Street for a couple of years. It’s in the building on the corner of Spring Street that once was home to Unum’s, an eclectic spot that Mrs. Gourmet and I visited early on in our reviewing career. Aside from the addition of Indian-themed art, the space is much the same as we remembered it, with a few tables in the front windows, and the bar and main dining area — with a dozen or so tables — a few steps up from street level.

It wasn’t especially busy when we visited on Saturday night, but we had to wait for a few minutes while our table, against the wall at the front of the upper level, was set. We were directly under a very active air conditioning outlet (even though it was 5 degrees outside), so we debated asking to be moved, but there weren’t many tables that weren’t potentially in the path of a cool breeze, so we stayed put. (Our advice: Bring an extra layer to be on the safe side.)

The menu at Taj India covers several pages, starting with lunch specials and continuing through appetizers and entrees, the latter grouped according to the main ingredient: lamb, chicken, seafood, rice and vegetables. Descriptions are thorough, and very helpful for diners who aren’t thoroughly versed in Indian food.

There are two samplers on the appetizer menu, and we thought one of those would be a good way to start. We chose the House Special ($10.95), featuring bites of grilled lamb, seekh (seasoned mixed lamb) kebab, two styles of chicken, samosa (a deep-fried spiced potato turnover), paneer pakora (a deep-fried cheese) and papadam (a lentil and black pepper wafer). Most of the meats were tossed in sauces that reminded us — in appearance and heat — of Buffalo-wing sauce. All the parts were good, but as an appetizer for two, it was a bit heavy — a problem we’ve encountered elsewhere with sampler-style apps, so you’d think we’d know better.
The House Special appetizer at Taj India features a variety of meats in memorably spicy sauces. 

Many of Taj India’s entrees come in a choice of spiciness: mild, regular and hot. We both requested regular, thinking that would be a reasonably adventuresome but not too dangerous route. By the time we finished the app, our lips were already glowing, and we wondered whether “regular” spice was such a good idea after all. As it turned out, “regular” kept the glow going, but it was nothing we couldn’t handle, and in fact it was welcome heat on a cold, cold night.

The spicier of our two entrees was Mrs. Gourmet’s Taj Special Biryani ($16.95 for one, $31.95 for two). This wonderful dish, which Mrs. G later described as sort of an Indian fried rice, featured chicken, shrimp, lamb and veggies tossed in saffron Basmati rice. Everything was perfectly cooked, moist, and yes, spicy. The portion was huge — we thought we might have accidentally received the “for two” serving — and we boxed up at least half of it to bring home.

My Lamb Curry ($14.95) wasn’t as spectacular, or as spicy, or as plentiful as the Taj Special, but it was no less satisfying for us curry fans. Chunks of tender, moist braised lamb were served in a thick brown, spicy but not hot curry sauce in a heavy crock, separate from a big bowl of perfectly cooked Basmati rice. (And is there better rice anywhere than the fluffy, aromatic, gently spiced Basmati served in Indian restaurants? It’s almost good enough to order by itself; it’s even better served in a delicious curry like this.)

As we boxed up our leftovers (enough for us to split for dinner a few nights later), we were fully satisfied, but since our lips were still burning, we decided to split a serving of Kulfee ($3.95), a very light homemade ice cream made with pistachios and cashews with sweet spices and rose water. Served cut into cubes, it was a wonderful way to cool our palates and finish our dinner.

The value factor is high at Taj India — our dinner with a shared appetizer and shared dessert came to less than $60. Service was unfailingly polite, but sometimes a bit slow; we were never asked for a drink order, and we had to ask to see the menu for desserts.

All told, though, Taj India was a warm, exotic place to spend a cold winter’s night, and another delicious reason to visit Nashua’s Pearl Street.

Our GourmetNashua

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