Taj is just one of many tasty restaurants that has popped up in the last few years along NW 23rd St. in Uptown, which is where my husband and I find ourselves eating most of the time as lovers of independently-owned ethnic food eateries. Their building doesn't look like much on the outside, but it transforms into a brightly decorated Indian restaurant the instant you walk through the doors and see the colorful tables and walls.
Taj is set up as a buffet, and in general, I'm not a fan of buffet-style restaurants, but it really is the best way to go when it comes to Indian food so you can try a bit of everything. Plus, I usually try to eat vegetarian, and with a buffet I don't end up with one $8 bowl of chickpeas for dinner. Really, who wants to eat just that?!
Taj offers a good mix of both North and South Indian cuisine, which also gives a good mix of both vegetarian and carnivorous options. Husband and I started with samosas (a deep-fried potato-and-pea-filled pastry) and spinach pakodas (spinach leaves in a chickpea-flour batter and deep fried). I dipped mine in a coconut chutney, while husband prefers his with a yogurt sauce called raitha. The samosas were good, but not as spicy as some I've had, and I think they work better in a non-buffet situation since they're always best right out of the oil. But the pakodas were delicious — light, crispy, golden, and perfect. I like to sprinkle them on some of the main dishes for a little added crunch, kinda like those fried onions on green bean casserole.
On my second round at the buffet, I tried spinach paneer, masala paneer, okra masala, mushroom coriander, eggplant masala, and vegetable korma (and I didn't try everything!). I skipped the rice so I'd have room for more veggies, but I did get a piece of naan (bread) to soak up some of the flavorful sauces. Husband got most of those, plus spicy chili chicken, chili-fry fish, and a lamb dish. He declared the eggplant to be his favorite way to eat eggplant. Ever. And I totally agree with him. It melts in your mouth and is cooked to perfection. I bet most people wouldn't know it was eggplant if they had to guess. Husband also said their spinach paneer and spinach pakodas were his two favorite ways to eat spinach. So if you have a family member who's iffy on their veggies, this a great place to take them — the spices and sauces are so delicious, they won't realize they're eating their leafy greens. The spinach and masala paneers were creamy without being too heavy, although I'd like mine a bit hotter, which is where ordering from a menu might come in handy. Husband said the chicken was exceptionally spicy (and that's a good thing for him!). Don't worry, it was clearly labeled *very spicy* on the buffet for those of you wanting to avoid mouth burn.
And for dessert, I opted for kheer (rice pudding) and pineapple halwa — a warm, buttery cream-of-wheat dish with large raisins and pineapple chunks (it's good, trust me!). I like the halwa because it's not too sweet. I would have preferred a little more cinnamon or cardamom on the kheer, but it was still creamy and good. They also had mango pudding and those syrup-covered donut-hole-type pastries (gulab jamun), but I was way too full to try anything else. I will definitely save room for those next time.
Taj also has a basic beer and wine menu, if you're so inclined. They were sadly out of their Indian beer when we came in, but were apologetic and explained that they're having a hard time getting it shipped here at the moment. So if your heart is set on drinking a Kingfisher or Taj Mahal with your spicy food, call first and confirm. I happily ordered a chai to drink, which is Indian tea simmered with milk, usually with a hint of cinnamon and cardamom.
My one complaint is that they have a few TVs playing throughout the restaurant, although fortunately with the sound turned off. The one in front of me was set to a news channel, and I was subject to some very gory footage along with my food, and I definitely could have done without that.
The dinner buffet is $10.95, a great deal considering all the varieties of food you get to try (students get a 10% discount). The only downside is no leftovers to eat the next day! Chai is $1.50, beer varies from $2.50-$4.00, and wine is available by the glass for $6 and by the bottle for $28.