Taj Majal curries favor with spicy Indian fare
By Eric Herbert
Business Report Columnist
FORT COLLINS – In 1986, Balwinder Singh left his native India to start a new life in the United States. Settling in Colorado, he took up residence in
Boulder and began working at the Royal Peacock Indian restaurant.
He has been a fixture at several Boulder and Denver Indian restaurants since then and this year decided to try his hand at restaurant ownership. So
began Taj Mahal at 148 W. Oak St. in downtown Fort Collins.
He chose Fort Collins over Colorado Springs and Denver because he felt that Fort Collins, with its diversified university-based population and fairly
quiet restaurant scene, would be the best market for his culinary offerings. I sat down a while back and chatted with him about his restaurant and
Indian cuisine in general.
We had a language barrier that was a little difficult to bridge – although it should be noted that my listening skills were probably more to blame than his
English abilities. I would make a quick effort to interpret a sentence, and when I got stuck I would just nod and smile like the culturally challenged
Anglo that I am. All the same, I think we covered the major points well – and Taj Mahal’s food speaks volumes about the restaurant anyway.
Balwinder opened Taj Mahal with his partner Gill Singh (no relation) on May 24th of this year. He has received a warm welcome from the first round
of diners that have visited him, and if his repeat business is a reliable predictor, it looks as though the restaurant will be a success.
When we were there, they were doing a fairly brisk business for a Tuesday night, and looking around the room we saw a lot of smiling diners.
Meals start off with a basket of crisp papadam (a lentil cake-based bread) and two dipping sauces. Sort of Indian-style chips and salsa. Both of the
sauces are chutneys – one is spicy, (made with mint, chilies and cilantro), and the other is sweet (made with tamarind). Indian music plays from the
sound system, and the room is decorated with Indian art and dishes.
Now allow me to be the big, mature person that I am and admit my ignorance right up front. Oh, sure, I could have used the old snowjob routine and
talked about how Taj Mahal compares to all of those other Indian restaurants I’ve been to, how they do Keema Mattar just a little different than what I
usually see, but I have a feeling more than a few people would have seen through that balderdash like it was a gauze teddy.
To be honest, I have a passing acquaintance with curry powder; I know Mulligatawny soup is yellow and has grapes in it, and I know a sitar when I
hear one played in old hippie music. Other than that, the land of tandoori and masala might as well be on one of Jupiter’s moons.
After reading Taj Mahal’s exciting menu and sampling its wonderful food & poor, stupid me! My duty here is to present information, not to give a
review, so I won’t try to rate the individual dishes we tried (get the saag). We had all kinds of neat things (get the saag) and the wait staff was attentive
and friendly (get the saag).
Just in case you are also lacking in your Indian cooking vernacular, allow me to let you in on a few tidbits I learned. For one thing, a masala is
actually a generic term for any aromatic spice mixture.
Curry is simply a kind of masala. Vindaloos are spicy dishes as hot as Mexican food. Naan is a smoky bread made of finely ground flour that has a
wonderful light texture.
A good dining strategy would be to order a couple of entrees (get the saag), some raita (a cool yogurt-based side dish) and some naan to soak up
leftover sauces. Dessert is also unusual – we had the most pedestrian thing offered: mango ice cream. Taj Mahal doesn’t have a liquor license yet, but
it will be a welcome addition when they do. A crisp glass of sauvignon blanc or a cold beer would go great with the food.
Balwinder showed me a sampling of the spices they use at Taj Mahal, and it was quite a shopping list. Two kinds of cardamom, cumin, turmeric,
coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel and a whole herd whose names caused me to just smile and nod.
“Oh, yeah, I use that at home sometimes”
Taj Mahal is open seven days a week, and they offer a low-priced lunch buffet that changes daily. If your taste buds are getting a little bored with the
daily routine you subject them to, pop into Taj Mahal and treat them to an Indian wake-up call. Spice, after all, is the variety of life. Or something like
that. Oh yeah, try the saag.
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