Taj Mahal

By | January 6, 2007

Taj Mahal
7795 McKnight Road
North Hills, 15237
M-Sun: 11:30-2:30; 5-10

Stop Three on the Quest for the Holy Indian Restaurant: Taj Mahal. I had never been here before, but I know at least one person, Ben Y., who calls it his favorite and I’ve always trusted his judgment. But then there was the time that someone else I know, Nicole C., got punched in the back by a waiter, apparently unprovoked. Hmmmm….mixed messages. Well, I’m glad I finally went because I was pleasantly surprised by its overall quality, both in food and service. And no one got punched either!

No one may have been physically abused, but I have to mention a little drink I ordered that was just absolutely appalling. Labeled on the menu as Jal Jeera, but re-titled ‘sewage water’, ‘poop juice’, and ‘jal jazeera’ by some reviewers who either couldn’t or didn’t care to remember the actual name, this delightful beverage was a combination of tamarind juice, salt, fresh cracked pepper, mint leaves, and cumin — plus something so terrible, so frightening, so hideous, that it defies description. Sort of fishy, sort of sulfurous, and a little like a rotten egg was mixed in. It was a bit like a Bloody Mary, but a Bloody Sari and without the liquor. There was some debate as to whether liquor would have made it better, because at least you would have gotten drunk along the way, or would have made it worse, especially if you had a little too much if you know what I mean. It seemed to get more off-putting with every sip, and to take a big gulp was to face death right in the eyeball. Seriously, this thing was rank.

I’ve never disliked something with such vigor, and I must say I am a little ashamed of myself. I feel so culturally closed-minded. But I am not alone in my distaste. All 11 in attendance gave it a little sip (and Reed a giant chug) and the vote was unanimous – nothing worse was every tasted. What gets me is that the ingredients seem relatively innocuous. How is it that the combination can be so bad? The recipe is a little kid favorite: basically just throw all the condiments on the table into the tamarind juice. That kind of ‘grog’ is generally unappealing, but never has it been quite so nasty! We talked to at least one guy from India and he said he doesn’t like it either. Whew! It is described on internet websites at ‘cool’ and ‘refreshing’… huh?!

Well enough about the nastiest drink ever to exist. I really shouldn’t start this review that way because everything else was pretty fantastic!! The plain rice was the best yet, with a simple, clove-y, aromatic flavor and distinct grains with a toothsome bite. The Nan was decent, particularly the Garlic Nan, and the Raita and Tamarind Sauce were both delish. They’ve got the basics down, which is a good start.

Almost all the food was presented in these giant serving dishes with tea lights underneath to keep the food warm, which was generally appreciated by all. The wait staff was great at handling a group of 11, and they just kept on refilling those water glasses! Also, they actually had all of our test dishes on the menu AND available to be ordered! Third time’s a charm. In general, the meat dishes were only so-so (the Tandoori chicken wasn’t as juicy as those we had the past couple of weeks, and the Chicken Tikka Masala was an eerie shade of neon pink-orange), but the veggie dishes were pretty good across the board. They had several kinds of Daal, of which we ordered Tadka Daal that had beans and tomatoes, and which was surprisingly delectable. Even those not so crazy for the Daal were scrambling seconds.

The Saag Paneer had a strong spinach-y flavor that was appreciated by most, though some tasters found the spice balance to be out-of-whack and the cheese to be too firm. We also ordered Matar Paneer, which had wonderful bursting peas and soft, tasty cheese. Because we had so many tasters in attendance, we also ordered Vegetable Biryani, which turned out to be totally awesome! At least one person expressed discontent with the various chucks in the rice, but most people thought it was a flavorful combo. Personally, I loved the cashews, golden raisins, big chunks of potato, carrot, and cauliflower, and saffron-y rice! Some of you out there might be looking for the best biryani in the city, and although it isn’t a permanent fixture on our list of test dishes and thus we aren’t comparing it across all the restaurants, I have the feeling that Taj Mahal would have been a serious contender in the biryani battle we aren’t having.

The last thing that I would like to say is the best thing of all. It was CHEAP! Super cheap! After paying out the wazoo for crap-food at Star of India, we were all astounded that we only owed about $14 apiece, for a smorgasbord of tasty food! Also worth mentioning is that the buffet, which was on in the dinner hours, looked fab! While we have a long way to go still in our Indian Food-A-Thon (we are only about 15% of the way through), this seems like it might be in the top 5 by the end of things. You never know though, so stay tuned!!

Veggie dishes

Unless you are ordering for an enemy, do NOT get the Jal Jeera!!!
Also, the Samosas were unremarkable in both filling and crust, but I guess that they might not have been up to potential because of the mass-produced buffet that was going on. But if that was how they always are, they aren’t recommended.

They have a wine list, but otherwise they are BYOB!

As always check out our super cool, updated line graph!

Week 3 - Core 5 - Indian Food-A-Thon

Week 3 - All - Indian Food-A-Thon

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