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Old Bridge Observer
Good Eating Section

January 20, 2001

By Claire O’Brien
Observer Staff

A Taste of Tandoor, where food, service and ambiance make it distinctive

Clearly Indian food is not the same as McDonald's. "However," says Dave Mathur, owner of the restaurant Taste of Tandoor. "Indian food is very common in England. There is an Indian restaurant on every corner." he says making the case that in England, Indian "restaurants are as prominent and as numerous as McDonald's shops are here. It then comes as no surprise that "60% of our customers are English.

Nonetheless; getting back to food, Indian is different. It is both more subtle and wider in taste. The yogurt sauce made from the yogurt they make themselves I found out, is wondorous. It was especially tasty with the bread called "naan" that I dipped into it. "Naan" is a chewy, thin and bubbly bread that is cooked on the walls of the tandoor.

The tandoor, for which the restaurant is named, is a large clay pot of an oven encased in a metal box with a small, moveable door at its base to control the flame that rests at the bottom of the clay oven. The bread, the naan, is "made fresh per customer," says Dave. The tandoor, which uses charcoal as its fuel, is used for the foods that are char-broiled as well as the bread.

This is what is distinctive about a "Taste of Tandoor" according to its owner. "A combination of three things that make it very unique," begins Dave. "First the food, which is very good, the best! Then the service and the ambiance; the dim lighting and the light music makes "it, very romantic." The final ingredient that Dave emphasizes is one important word and it is "cleanliness."

The color scheme of the restaurant is both striking and restful and in this aspect similar to the food. The principal colors, orange and green, are secondary colors and share yellow as their common ingredient. "I like the color combination, it took me a while to decide upon it." says Dave. The color cues are taken from a picture to the right of the bar of Lord Krishna. "When you think of India you think of exotic, but not too much," says Dave.

The walls are a light burnt orange color that Dave explains is "saffron, we layered the color on the walls." The chairs are upholstered in a sage colored green which is "more earthy, more natural," he says. This combination lends a flavor of both "warmth and coziness" to the restaurant. The two long walls on the sides of the restaurant are lined with booths. The center of the room has tables that are well spaced.

It is a cold morning that I am seated with Dave in the Taste of Tandoor. A waiter in a starched white coat has brought us "Indian" tea called "chai". It is just what I need. It is warm and caramel colored, flavored with cinnamon, ginger, cardamom cloves and just a hint of bay leaf.

As the walls are a saffron color, so is the food spiced, specifically in one of the rice dishes and a dessert, "Ras Malai" which is described as a "home style cheese patty dipped in sweet saffron cream sauce." Some of the chicken too is marinated in a sauce that contains saffron.

Part of what makes Indian food taste exotic and pleasing is the use and combination of spices. While it is exotic, Dave also wants to stress that the food is healthy, "all herbs and spices we use have medicinal value," he says. The term he uses to define this concept is "auyervedic" which he explains to mean that the spices and foods "are "balanced". "We use at least 19 spices and mix them here. Because we mix it here, we can balance it here," says Dave. This combination of spices and herbs which is not strictly defined as to its contents is called, "gharan masala".

"I have a very good knowledge about what goes well together," says Dave. This is because, "I worked at a five star hotel, the Hyatt Regency Delhi, and the Maurya Sheraton Hotel and Towers, both in New Delhi. At the Sheraton I had a two year training in cooking." But perhaps more importantly in terms of authenticity and bon vivant he "learned from my mother, a wonderful cook."

Adding, "I am here and I know what I'm doing. I have a very good knowledge of the interaction of spices in cooking, with 15 years professional experience, 25 with my mother and a degree in Business Management from the Delhi University."

New Delhi, Dave's home town, sits in the north central section of the country like a singular jewel of an eye of the nation is the capital city of India. The chef of Taste of Tandoor is named Kamal, he is from Bangladesh, and "he has a very good hand," says Dave explaining a phenomena that many people have experienced, .i.e. when an identical recipe tastes better when one individual prepares it than another. This event when it occurs in Indian cooking is associated with the hand.

"I," says Dave, "am very fond of cooking. Also I do the cooking one day a week here." he adds that "some dishes are not on the menu but with advance notice I can cook them." Emphasizing too, that he and Kamal work very well together. Then speaking of the current and future patrons he says, "they can click on the web site for those dishes."

Continuing the Indian theme, the music that is provided is "basically Indian classic sitar and flute, very relaxing," states Dave. This is a good restaurant to begin the New Year, to begin again anytime for that matter. They do not use butter in cooking, although one of the entrees is called "Butter Chicken" the butter being used as an adjective to describe the smooth texture of the chicken rather than as a noun as an ingredient.

And having sampled the "Butter Chicken" it is indeed smooth. In the absence of fat there is taste and happily too an abundance of vegetable dishes, "a whole list," says Dave smiling. A few things are cooked in a wok using soy bean oil, but most are char-broiled in the clay pot oven called the tandoor. Along with chicken and vegetables there is lamb, fish and "We use all fresh ingredients and our meat is halal," says Dave.

Taste of Tandoor has been opened only seven months and their busiest season has been this season, "so far Christmas time, starting the 15th has been very busy," says Dave. The continued English effect is witnessed in the beverage of tea although coffee too is offered along with fruit drinks and soda. On a different level there is beer, an official Indian beer "straight from India," called "Taj Mahal" and another that although Indian in origin is produced in England called the "King Fisher".

Wine is a new industry in India and not yet available here in Virginia. Dave came to this area, the area of Virginia as well as the United States seven years ago. "Many friends asked me to come and manage their restaurants. There are more opportunities here and if you are working there is no way anyone can stop you. If you work hard you will get the reward," says Dave who though he lives in Arlington is hoping soon to move to Lake Ridge.

"Spicy doesn't always mean 'hot' spicy," explains Dave. Indian food, some of the food found at a Taste of Tandoor, is not hot and spicy but with different herbs and spices for balancing the diet. I would invite people who have never tried Indian food and may be hesitant about it to try the lunch buffet where the sauces are mild towards medium. I really want people to know that Indian food is not only for taste but for balance too," says Devainder (Dave) Mathur, owner of Taste of Tandoor.

The lunch buffet is from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30p.m. Monday through Friday and noon until 3p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It is an "all you can eat" affair. Dinner on Sunday through Thursday is from 5 t0 9:30p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 5 until 10p.m.

Taste of Tandoor is located at 13836 Smoketown Road in the Smoketown Plaza. Call 703-897-7200 or the web site which contains herbal definitions and uses as well as restaurant information at www.tasteoftandoor.com.

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