Another splash of flavor hits the Salem downtown! At 12th and State, Taj Mahal is snuggled between the smokey aromas of Adam's Rib Smokehouse and the more-often-than-not-empty Roxxy space.
For background, I love Indian food. My authentically-Indian-friend, Kalpana, rolls her eyes at me and tells me I know nothing about it, however; all my favorites are "restaurant food" and not things a normal Indian family eat at their dinner table. I don't care. She's cooked for me, and helped me to cook, many more "real" Indian foods, and I love those just as much as I love the Americanized Indian Food Idea. The rich flavors, seductively powerful aromas, a pinch of heat, and the contrasting undertones of yogurt or some other creamy nature intoxicate me. There are days I stop cold and say, "My God, I need some Indian food. Now." And nothing abates the desire until I've had it.
My husband and I arrived to meet a friend at 12:30p on a Friday and were seated in the last available seat, a booth -- a very roomy booth, I might add. Booths that require a Kate Moss like physique really tick me off, but you won't find those here. The narrow strip of a restaurant, in the space that used to be Two Doors Down, is basically but pleasantly appointed. As soon as I walked, rich aromas filled my nostrils and promised a pleasing taste experience. I couldn't wait to give the buffet a run for its money. (I always say that, but then one modestly filled plate later I'm full. But it sounds good, no?)
The buffet began with a selection of two soups, a tomato and an Indian spiced chicken soup. Next was a small fruit and vegetable bar, with fresh crisp offerings. I ladled my favorite condiments, tamarind sauce and green chutney, into a bowl and then took a sample of almost everything on the buffet. Offerings included a nice array of basic Indian restaurant fare that will satisfy your Indian jones but not scare off timid friends. (For instance, no goat.) Vegetable Pakora, Papadam, Dal Makhni, Mutter Paneer, Karahi Chicken, Chicken Makhani, and ample amounts of fresh, moist tandoori chicken. And of course, naan. Lots of fluffy, soft bread with crisp parts.
There is a full menu, but the winner at lunch is the buffet. It is well stocked, and is replenished often but clearly the items are made in small batches, making it fresh and yummy! I say "clearly" because every few minutes, a woman would walk from the back where the kitchen is to the front carrying a fairly small sauce pan full of a dish that was hot off the stove to replenish the buffet.
There were a lot of staff, but they were somewhat disorganized. Opening was only April 5th, and some of the wait staff appeared very young. They're very helpful if you wave them down and ask for what you want. But they will, for instance, seat you and then not come back to take your drink order or confirm that you do indeed want to partake of the buffet. We waited ten minutes and then just got up and helped ourselves and flagged them down later for drinks.
But you know what, I'm forgiving when the food is this good. The flavors are well balanced, not overly done. Mild, if anything. But the quality comes through.
Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant is seven days a week open for lunch 11a-3pm, and closed until dinner from 5p-9pm. The take away menu implies the buffet is available on the weekends, too.
On the buffet you can eat in for $7.95 (includes fountain soda), OR get a discount and choose from two sizes of carryout containers, small ($5.25) and large ($6.95)! A brisk business was being done in the take-out department, and it's certainly going to be a frequent stop in my lunch runs at that price, and at the flavorful quality I experienced.
Dinner dishes are well priced, and I'm curious to return and see how the value plays out, as most Indian favorites these days are serving smaller dishes with less meat and higher prices.
So until we return for a second pass and a look at the dinner dishes... go enjoy the lunch buffet! The place cleared out at 1pm, with only two three tables occupied, but a second lunch rush filled the place to half capacity again in a few minutes. The buffet remained fresh and flavorful through it all.