No wonder West Broad Street's Tandoor restaurant refers to its fare as an "eclectic Indian food experience." Janet and Ashok Seth ran New York's successful Tanjore for years. When the hectic pace of the metropolis began to take its toll, the Seths sought a calmer venue for their talents. In 1998 they began offering Richmonders what I consider the best Indian food in town.
Tucked away in the Steinmart Plaza just east of Parham Road, the dining room is decorated with subcontinent arts and crafts. Dime-sized mirrors sewn into elaborately embroidered tapestries border the ceiling. Hand-carved and -painted wooden dolls depicting Rajasthani musicians and dancers line the bank between linen-draped tables. Bucolic scenes with Krishna wooing his true love hang on the walls.
But no one's going out of the way for soft-lit ambience and raga music. It's the menu that draws the crowd by offering seasoned connoisseurs and Indian food novices equal opportunity to sample the authentic spices and tandoor, or clay-oven cooking, that make Tandoor the real thing.
They serve 16 different breads, all baked fresh daily, ranging from layered paratha to the well-known crispy flat bread called naan and its whole-wheat counterpart roti. Some are stuffed with delicious goodies ranging from spiced lamb to hot Punjabi chutney, spinach to fresh fruit and nuts.
Many of the entrees that you may be familiar with come straight from the tandoor's earthen fire as well. The tandoori mixed grill is truly filling, with well- seasoned chicken, lamb seekh kababs and shrimp all piled high atop sweet basmati rice. I consider vindaloo a benchmark for gauging Indian restaurants. Since it is a sautéed dish rather than one prepared in the tandoor, it isn't a specialty of the house, but it was deliciously prepared with just the right amount of heat, proving flexibility in the kitchen. Vegans and vegetarians take note of the extensive Sabzi Se menu. Entrees range from $8.95 to $19.95 and are all well worth the price.
With so many intriguing and delicious choices, I never saved room for dessert. My wife did savor a thick and sweet banana lassi (think smoothie-meets-milkshake), and next time I'm saving room to try the rice pudding or sweet-potato dessert.
The service is attentive, almost to a fault. The staff's nearly desperate desire to refill water glasses after each sip is better suited to fine dining than to Tandoor's casual atmosphere. But at least they don't interrupt your conversations for an unnecessary introduction. If you have any questions about the menu and unless you were born in Delhi, you will they are friendly and eager to offer explanations and advice.
This assistance is particularly useful where Tandoor's all-you-can-eat lunch buffet is concerned. And it's a knockout buffet. From matter paneer (a mild mix of peas and Indian cottage cheese) to potato fritters, from rice puffs to cardamom-flavored dahl soup, there are enough "safe" options and adventurous choices to fit any palate and appetite. And for the price ($6.95 during the week and $8.95 on the weekends), it might just be the best way to get your Indian fix in Richmond. I've eaten at nearly all of our city's Indian venues and Tandoor is far and away my favorite. I am particularly taken with the chicken makhani, which features large chunks of chicken in a piquant red pepper curry sauce.
Janet Seth has been running Tandoor alone since the death of her husband and partner, and says she plans to continue his vision. Seth says the execution of authentic Indian food makes her feel that she is still in touch with her husband. It's that spiritual connection to food that put Annapurna in the Hindu pantheon and puts Tandoor on the map. S
Tandoor ($$) 7801 West Broad St. 755-4400 Lunch: Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday noon-2:45 p.m. Dinner: Sunday-Thursday 5-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5-10:30
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