Wednesday, November 15, 2000
When Devainder Mathur was in fifth
grade in New Delhi, he came home from
school hungry. His mother was talking
with a neighbor, ignoring him. So he
set a pan on the stove and starting putting
whatever food he could find into it,
then threw in spices. Whatever it was
turned out pretty good, he remembers,
and surprised him. It also triggered
his love of cooking.
Today he owns Taste of Tandoor, open
since May in Woodbridge's Smoketown Plaza.
Some restaurant decor, such as the red
upholstered booths, are holdovers from
the previous Indian restaurant, but his
green circular chairs and sparkly burgundy
trim add pizazz.
Mathur, 36, received a business management
degree in India, then worked in dining
rooms and hotels, including a Sheraton
and a Hyatt. His attentive manner may
have been honed as he tended bar, then
working as a food and beverage manager.
"People tell me my food is very close
to home," which he considers a high compliment,
He and chef Kamal Muhammad (Mathur
cooks on Tuesdays) choose ingredients
carefully for nutritional value and taste.
Foods are mildly spiced, but more spice
is added upon request.
His restaurant should be on the list
of anyone eager to explore Indian cuisine,
which is literally sprinkled with aromatic
spices and herbs: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg,
cloves, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, coriander.
Add to that mint, garlic and peppercorns
in numerous combinations, and you'll
appreciate the culinary skill. Too much
or not enough of any one ingredient can
sink a dish.
Everything is made from scratch, even
the yogurt and cheese, a task that would
dampen the enthusiasm and creativity
of some chefs. But those ingredients
are crucial to making dishes work at
Taste of Tandoor.
Meals start with warm, browned naan,
a thin flat bread made daily. It's served
with a thin yogurt and cucumber dip,
a pleasing mix of hot and cool.
You could make a feast of just breads,
plus a bowl of rich lentil soup enhanced
with cilantro or tomato soup with mustard
seeds. Pair that with onion kulcha, bread
stuffed with onions and herbs, or aloo
paratha, whole wheat bread stuffed with
seasoned mashed potatoes, or four other
breads. Perhaps an order of sweetly spiced
mango chutney would round out such a
meal, or vegetable fritters of cauliflower,
zucchini and eggplant. Another option
is a vegetable turnover (samosa) stuffed
with potatoes and green peas seasoned
with cumin and other spices.
The all-you-can-eat lunch buffet is
a value at $7.95 on weekdays and $8.95
weekends. It changes daily but always
has at least two kinds of chicken, basmati
rice pilaf, salad and vegetables.
Nilda Rendino of Woodbridge
said she fell in love with Indian food
lived in England. The buffet lunches,
she said, "are good for discovering favorites."
The secret to Tandoori cuisine is the
clay oven, and the restaurant has two.
Baked or barbecued in the oven, marinated
chicken, lamb, fish and seafood turn
out moist and evenly cooked. One of the
restaurant's specialties is Tandoori
chicken ($8.95 as an entree) marinated
overnight in yogurt, lemon juices and
spices, then charbroiled. The reddish
poultry was on a recent lunch buffet,
as was butter chicken, which is cooked
in a light tomato sauce. Daal--lentils
cooked with garlic, ginger, coriander
and onions--was especially tasty.
The menu is extensive, with 38 entrees
(most less than $9.95), kabobs to seafood.
You want chicken? Take your pick from
11 versions, grilled, stewed, sauced,
marinated, as well as charbroiled pieces
cooked in the chef's secret cilantro-laced
Like lamb? You'll be hard pressed to
decide among the nine entrees--chunks
or minced lamb marinated in spices and
skewered for kabobs, lamb cooked with
saffron rice, lamb in a creamy yogurt-based
stew, lamb mixed with spinach, and more.
Salmon retains its character after
being marinated in a yogurt-based sauce
and broiled in the clay oven.
What Muhammad, who worked at Haandi
Indian Restaurant in Falls Church for
nine years, does to shrimp is interesting.
When cooked briefly over intense heat
with fresh tomato, onions and peppers
in a wok (karachi shrimp), it's colorful.
When broiled in the clay oven after being
marinated in lemon juice and yogurt,
or when simmered in coconut milk and
cooked with ginger, garlic, curry and
other spices, it's exotic.
If you can't decide what to eat, order
the mixed grill with shrimp, lamb shish
kebab and boneless chicken chunks for
The meatless meals--there are 11 vegetarian
entrees--are superb. Our palakh paneer,
fresh spinach and homemade cottage cheese
cooked with turmeric, ginger, onion and
coriander, was generous enough for another
Don't skip dessert. Mathur
is not humble about his homemade ice
cream (kulfi). "I
am the best."
He heats milk into a thick cream, then
grinds in mango, sometimes with a little
pulp. The result is a semi-frozen pale
orange ball that is surprisingly not
at all sweet. He also makes ice cream
flavored with cardamom and pistachio.
If you have a sweet tooth, try gulab
jamun, dry milk and cheese dumplings
dipped in honey sauce. We felt like toddlers
playing with the slippery gold orbs.
Chai masala tea was intoxicatingly
aromatic, and we downed several cups
gratefully on a chilly day.
Three Indian beers and California wines
The restaurant is busiest Sundays,
said Mathur, when many of his Indian
acquaintances come to dine.
Taste of Tandoor
* Address: 13760 Smoketown Rd., Woodbridge
* Hours: Lunch, Monday-Friday 11:30
a.m.-2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday noon-3
p.m.; dinner, Monday-Thursday and Sunday
5-9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5-10
p.m. Carryout available.
* Credit cards: Major cards accepted.
* Low-fat selections: Vegetables cooked
* Health-conscious: Heaven for vegetarians.
The Washington Post, Restaurant Reviews.
9254 Center St., Manassas, Va. 20110
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