“You think so?” I said, pausing between bites of sarson ka saag.
“Yeah, I do. But it’ll take about two years.”
He turned up the volume on the flat screen, where Aishwarya Rai was boogying to some Bollywood music, and I went back to my saag.
The mustard greens – pureed with onions, ginger and what tasted like pickled green chilies – were delicious and lip-searing. I dumped all the yogurt that came with them into the bowl and fought the fire with an unimpressive slab of corn roti.
I hope, for his sake – and the sake of New York’s Financial District – that the owner of Tandoor Palace is right, that the World Trade Center memorial will help lift up the neighborhood that was brought to its knees after September 11.
The subtext of my lunch – and the flavor of the saag (a dish I couldn’t help ordering when I remembered the tasty, cabbie-recommended version I tried in Rego Park) – made me forgive the taxi driver I’d met a few minutes earlier for almost steering me to a restaurant that no longer exists.
We were crawling north on 8th Avenue when the cabbie (he told me his name, but I have no interest in defaming him) confessed his love for his wife’s cooking – and for the ‘healthy food’ at Blimpie, Domino’s and Pizza Hut.
Just when I’d given up on the idea of him giving me a restaurant recommendation, he told me about ‘Taj Palace’ – a Punjabi restaurant on 37th Avenue and 75th St. in Jackson Heights where he liked to order goat curry. He’d been there a few weeks ago.
“And the same family owns another restaurant in the Financial District,” he said, “On Fulton Street between Broad and Gold.”
We were driving in the opposite direction of both places. I asked him to drop me off in Columbus Circle, and I hopped on a downtown subway. I wanted to try the Manhattan branch first.
I walked up and down Fulton Street searching for Taj Palace. It wasn’t there. But beneath a sign that read ‘Russian Turkish Bath & Restaurant,’ I spotted Tandoori Palace. It was the only Indian restaurant around. I went in and asked the cook behind the counter if they ran another restaurant on 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights.
“No,” he said, “We don’t.”
I called an audible and tried the saag anyway. I chose a plastic chair in a dim seating area that was empty except for a man who was shuffling through a pile of papers and watching me out of the corner of his eye the way a restaurant owner does.
“How do you know about that place?” he tore his eyes away from his papers. The man who was mounting a hand sanitizer dispenser on the wall stopped what he was doing.
“A cab driver told me about it.”
“That restaurant has been out of business since 1994,” he said.
“Yes. But we’ve been here [on Fulton St.] for 17 years.”
I scraped up the last of my greens and wished him luck. They certainly weren’t better than the ones at Tandoor in Rego Park, but they’d do in a Financial District pinch.
Tandoor Palace – Map it
88 Fulton St. (corner of Gold St.) – Financial District
Credit cards accepted ($10 minimum) + delivery
Prices: Sarson ka saag with corn roti and yogurt, $6.95; lunch boxes with meat/veg combos $6.50-7.95.
Would I go back? If I had a craving for northern Indian and was in the neighborhood, yes. I wouldn’t make a special trip, though, and I’d skip the corn roti.