By Bonnie Cavanaugh
Taste of India is both the name and the promise at this popular Flanders restaurant, which features fresh, house-made ingredients and the authentic flavors of Northern India.
Run by brothers Vinnie and Sanjeev Kumar NOTE: [PLEASE CHECK SPELLING], this casual-to-fine dining establishment tucked into the Flanders Mall on Route 206 offers the flavors of their homeland in accessible varieties. All the dishes are prepared to personal taste and style: for everyone from the epi-curious newbie to the established Indian cuisine connoisseur.
Menu items can be served with any meat or seafood substitution, or geared to vegetarian or vegan requests. Each dish is also spiced to the guest’s preferred heat index: mild, medium, hot, or “Indian hot”, ensuring every diner has their own unique experience. And most Indian foods are naturally gluten-free.
The brothers serve the foods they grew up with, including many of their mother’s own recipes. Vinnie Kumar would like to change the menu more than he does now—about every eight months or so—but with a vibrant business, a catering function, a daily lunch buffet, and a growing young family, he concentrates on making sure the current menu items reflect the foods of his heritage.
Northern Indian cuisine, unlike dishes from the southern part of the country, includes a lot of fresh dairy like home-made yogurt, milk, and ghee (clarified butter), reflecting the region’s country setting. It also features heavy spices and tandoor style cooking, where meats like marinated chicken or lamb are cooked in a hot Tandoor, or clay oven. True Northern Indian spices are not always easy to find in the United States, so the brothers order a large variety of everything from ginger, white pepper, and mint, to garlic, coriander, and cinnamon, creating combinations for their own proprietary mixtures in-house.
Pretty much everything on the plate at Taste of India is house-made, like the fresh-baked bread, or naan, at every table, to the yogurt, used for dishes like Lamb Pasanda: marinated lamb pieces simmered in a light sauce of yogurt, onion, and tomatoes and lightly spiced; and drinks, such as Lassi, a refreshing respite from the summer heat. While Mango Lassi remains a customer favorite, the brothers prefer Rose Lassi, prepared with rosewater, which their mother used to make for them at home in India.
Many diners start off with an appetizer, such as Vegetable Samosa, a crispy, fried turnover filled with mildly spiced potatoes and peas, at $5.95. It’s the vegetarian version of Chicken Samosa, which owner Vinnie also highly recommends—but not if you’re ordering a chicken entrée. Best to vary the meats and vegetables to savor all the varieties the menu has to offer, he notes.
Other popular appetizers include Onion Bhajia, strings of golden, batter-fried onions; and Mango Shrimp, large shrimp sautéed with mango sauce, ginger, and white pepper, both at $5.95. Accompaniments, or small side dishes and dips, include Raita, home-made yogurt blended with cucumbers and fresh mint, at $2.95; Papdum, a thin, crispy flatbread made of lentils, at $1.95; Mango Chutney, made with sweet and spicy mango slices, at $3.95, and Chef’s Special Chutney, a sweet and sour chutney featuring tamarind, at $1.95.
All the Roti, or Indian breads, are made to order. They include Naan, a traditional, teardrop-shaped Punjabi white bread baked in the Tandoor, at $2.95; Onion Kulcha, an unleavened bread made with onions and spices, at $3.95; a customer favorite, the Spinach and Garlic Naan, at $4.95; and Chef’s Special Paratha, a layered, unleavened bread stuffed with spiced, shredded chicken, at $5.95.
The most popular entrée at Taste of India is Chicken Tikka Masala, featuring boneless chicken chunks that are first broiled in the Tandoor, then cooked in a rich sauce of tomatoes, onions and cream, at $14.95. Chicken Tandoori is also quite popular, and is made with spring chicken marinated in lemon and spices, then barbecued over hot coals in the Tandoor, also at $14.95.
The Lamb Vindaloo, a popular, spicy hot dish more associated with Southern India, made its way onto the menu as well. It features chunks of lamb cooked in a hot sauce, with a touch of lemon and cinnamon. The Goat (with bone) or Lamb Curry is cooked with onions and spices and simmered over a low fire. Saag Meat features tender lamb pieces flavored with fresh spinach, coriander, and fragrant herbs. All are priced at $16.95.
The vegetarian entrees can easily be made as vegan dishes, and the house uses a completely separate cooking station to prepare them, owner Sanjeev notes. One of their most popular is the Saag Paneer, cubes of house-made Indian cheese cooked with fresh spinach and mild spices, at $12.95. Another favorite, Kurkuri Bhindi, features fresh okra, cut and fried with spices until crunchy, at $11.95. The Jeera Aloo is made with cubed potatoes that are lightly roasted with cumin and other spices, at $11.95. And the Aloo Gobhi Palak features fresh cauliflower, potatoes, and spinach, cooked with tomatoes, ginger and spices, at $12.95.
The seafood selections include shrimp cooked in various ways. There’s Shrimp Curry or Vindaloo, cooked in a light gravy, at $16.95; Shrimp Kadai, which is sautéed in a kadai, or wok, with onion, tomato, and garlic, also at $16.95; Shrimp Nirgisi, cooked in a mild coconut sauce, at $17.95; and Shrimp Shahi Korma, which is cooked in a house-made yogurt sauce, also at $17.95.
The Salmon Tikki Masala features marinated salmon chunks that are first barbecued in the Tandoor, then cooked with onions, tomatoes, butter, and cream, at $22.95.
Home-made Indian desserts follow; all are priced at $4.95. They include Kofi, Indian ice cream made with fresh cream and nuts, and flavored with rosewater; Gulub Jamun, a small ball of pastry made with a thick syrup of milk and honey; Firni, a custard with pistachios and almonds; Ras Malai, home-made cheeseballs in sweetened milk, and flavored with nuts and rosewater; and the Chef’s Special Kheer, Basmati rice pudding with almonds and pistachios.
Taste of India is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner, from 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. for lunch, and from 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. for dinner. Diners are encouraged to bring a nice bottle of wine—especially if they like their food “Indian hot.”
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