Tamarind: Flavor of India

By | March 25, 2007

Tamarind: Flavor of India
257 N. Craig Street
North Oakland, 15213
M-F: 11:30-2:30, 5-10; Sat-Sun: 12-3, 5-10

For our 10th Indian Food Club anniversary, we decided to go on a date to Tamarind: Flavor of India. This is the upscale sister restaurant to Tamarind: Savoring India out in the South Hills, which we reviewed way back when in Week 5. Savoring India was decent, but probably only worth going back to if it happened to be convenient to your neighborhood. Savoring’s sibling, however, is perhaps one of the finest Indian restaurants in Pittsburgh. It may be more expensive, but almost everything on the menu has a high probability of being delicious, and you eat your dins in a nice, though not very Indian, environment that could be perfect for a date, a work dinner, or a family celebration. Sure, there were a couple of slip-ups here and there, but overall we were all very happy with Tamarind: Flavor of India, and our rating shows it, at a whopping 4.5 average!

I was worried when we set out to eat here, because part of the way they make the restaurant upscale is to serve the food individually instead of family-style like most other Indian restaurants. The thought of passing around individual dishes with a crowd of 14 made me cringe, and seemed like it would be awfully suspicious (as if our furious scribbling on ratings sheets isn’t suspicious enough), This fear proved to be unnecessary, as the waiter took care of us like we were family. He let me order early, and he brought the dishes family style without my having to even ask. Sure, some of the things arrived as only one dish instead of two, and a couple lassis and beers were forgotten here and there, but the staff were always more than happy to make up for it. In general, the staff here are professional as commensurate with the style of the restaurant, though perhaps sometimes they can linger a little too long.

This restaurant is in the former Indica location, near Craig and Centre. Tamarind retained much of the feel of Indica, which can hardly be helped due to the nature of the space. Situated in an old Pittsburgh home with beautiful windows and wood banisters, Tamarind: Flavor of India is tastefully decorated, although with only an iota of Indian culture. Instead of video sleeze, there was – as Sidd H. put it – botany sleeze, in the form giant drawings of hyacinth bulbs and fern plants. Lovely, to be sure, but just not very Indian. For that, you should go around the corner to Orchids and check out the weird, and very Indian, painting on the way to the bathroom.

As for the food, there were a number of dishes here that I thought were the very best we’ve had yet. Tamarind: Flavor of India, like its sister, has a Southern Indian specialty. The Dosai were decent, with a crispy crepe and a little better than bland filling, but Tamarind: Flavor of India really shined with its Uthappam, perhaps even ousting Udipi for just this one dish!! What, what, WHAT?!?! I know! But it was packed with all kinds of veggies, including freshly hulled peas, which I found to be just fantabulous. Maybe the texture wasn’t perfect, but the pop of a fresh pea just cannot be ignored. Served with the usuals, the sambar was paltry, but the coconut chutney was surprisingly good. Speaking of chutneys, Flavor of India had plenty of them lying around for us to sample, including a spicy tomato chutney, an onion chutney, and the usual tamarind and mint sauces, all of which were of a high tastiness factor. In particular, the mint chutney tasted strongly of mint, atypical of many of the mint chutneys we’ve had. Still, it had a kick to it, and was truly delightful. I only wish they sold papaddams to spoon this stuff all over.

Other deliciousness was had in the Gobi Manchurian appetizer, which was just like we remembered it at the other Tamarind. Thank the heavens! Man – it was getting pretty bad for a couple of weeks there. Gobi Manchurian has the most variability of any Indian dish I’ve ever had: more than Daal, more than Biryani, more than Raita… it is all over the map. Probably this is because it is a pretend-Chinese dish, but even so it is apparently very popular and common, even in India. You can even find it in the freezer section of the Indian grocery stores. But, as for getting it freshly made, we seriously have only found that it is good at Tamarind. We want to be fair and thus keep trying the gobi manchurian wherever we find it, but this fact remains steadfast: if you want Gobi Manchurian, you gotta get it at Tamarind (South Hills or North Oakland).

Outstandingly, the Chicken Tikka Masala was supa-fine! Actually, I am not sure that it was Chicken Tikka Masala, because that entree is not officially on the menu. Nope, they made it special for us – hooked us up, if you will. But it was suspiciously like Chicken Mahkhani and showed up on the bill this way (possibly because there is no Tikka Masala button). In any case, it was freaking amazing. For sure, the best yet. Juicy, white chicken in a tangy, red sauce, it was perfectly balanced. I highly recommend it, but I am sorry that I can’t exactly tell you what I am recommending!

Of course, not everything was wonderful here. The samosas were just OK (though we are starting to wonder if they are ever good) and the Nan was totally variable. Some baskets contained warm, soft bread, but most were filled with crispy shards. It was a shame. I’ll definitely get a different bread next time I come here. In spite of this pretty serious negative (how can you have all this other good stuff but mess up the Nan?), there are certainly more goods at Tamarind: Flavor of India than bads. I didn’t even get to mention the Saag Paneer yet, which was totally comforting in a way none other has been so far, with soft cheese and a not-too-creamy spinach sauce.

And I also forgot to mention that the Biryani was quite delish as well. I think that it must be one of the best Biryanis we’ve had, though I’d like to stack it up, head to head, to the Biryani from Taj Mahal on McKnight Rd to be sure. Regardless, it was just my style, with dried fruits, nuts, and a warm spice flavor in the rice. I loved it, and we even had a little fight over the leftovers. Well, it wasn’t really a fight, except in my head, but I secretly wanted it. As the moron I am, I offered it up to be nice, and when someone took my offer I shed a little tear inside. I reconciled my post-partum Biryani feelings with the thought of another trip here soon, or perhaps several dozen because there are just too many good dishes to get on one trip alone – unless of course you have a posse of Indian lovers at your side (I am a lucky girl).

Mint Chutney
Veggie Biryani
Chicken Tikka Masala (or whatever that was)
Saag Paneer
Gobi Manchurian

Nan :(

My sneaky tip is really just to reveal that one of Tamarind: Flavor of India’s stealth ingredients is extensive use of cardamom, coupled with cinnamon. I love this, but not everyone does, so be forewarned. It plays heavily into the Biryani, and makes appearances in several other dishes. It isn’t like they use it to a fault or anything though. In fact, they use it quite well, but you can certainly taste that specific flavor. My one remaining question is: why do they dumb down the food at the South Hills location, when clearly they are capable of more? In any case, check the stats, yo:

Week 10 - Core 5

week 10 - all