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Three Hungry New Yorkers Take on Tandoor

Six weeks ago, I had the pleasure of going on a taxi adventure with the very gracious Kamal Aftab, who delivered me to a less than stellar meal at Kabab King.

Despite being a little disappointed in Kabab King’s nihari stew, I was still intrigued by the other two restaurants the taxi driver raved about during our journey from Astoria to Jackson Heights: Kabul Kabob House in Flushing and Tandoor in Rego Park.

Saturday afternoon, fearless foragers Salem P. and Jenny M. met me at Tandoor, where we were looking forward to tasting the chicken tikka masala and onion naan that Kamal always gets when he goes – and to seeing whether the cabbie’s restaurant was actually worth a food pilgrimage.

The three of us expected a hole-in-the-wall. What we got was a cluster of white tablecloths in a sunken dining room on the ground floor of a glass-covered office building on Queens Blvd.

At Tandoor, “the joy of eating lies in the art of cooking,” and their goal is to “give you a [true] taste of India.”

Besides the all-you-can-eat brunch-lunch buffet, their Indian-Pakistani menu focuses on tandoori specialties, a relatively long list of vegetarian options, classic chicken, beef, lamb, goat and seafood selections, and a few basmati rice dishes. Kashmiri lamb ($19.95) is the most expensive item on the menu, and most main courses land somewhere in the $12.95 range.

We ignored the buffet and went straight for the cabbie’s favorite dishes. At Salem’s suggestion, we also tried sarson ka saag (mustard green puree) and pudina paratha (griddled flatbread stuffed with mint). Salem said he hardly ever sees sarson ka saag at Indian restaurants in New York, so he was eager to see how it measured up to his memories.

The combination of the ginger-spiked mustard greens with the fresh mint in the pudina paratha was something Salem’s mother discovered years ago, and we could taste why he pounced on it when he saw it on Tandoor’s menu. The greens elevated the mint and the mint held the butter-rich greens in check even as it underlined their spices.

And when we tried Kamal’s chicken tikka masala, we could also understand the cabbie’s devotion to the dish. Tandoor’s version is one of the best I’ve tried in New York, with perfectly cooked chunks of chicken and a sauce that relied more on a vibrant masala than on tomatoes or cream for flavor. Soft, chewy onion naan, with fresh scallions and rosemary, was a great foil.

As is often the case when gluttons get together, we traded food tips with the enthusiasm of fantasy football scorekeepers – and we ordered dessert even though we’d eaten beyond our capacity.

Rabddi Falooda, made with thickened milk and served over glass noodles, was another one of Salem’s favorites growing up, although the dessert didn’t taste exactly how he remembered.

Meanwhile, Gajar Halwa, a traditional Indian festival dessert with fresh carrots, nuts, cardamom and clarified butter, was a warm crumble of full-volume sweetness that we never finished.

In the end, I’m pretty sure that all three of us would return to Kamal’s favorite Indian outpost in Rego Park, though we probably wouldn’t bother to save room for sweets. There are too many tempting savories on the menu – chicken hare masala ka, rogan josh, bhindi masala – that we wished we’d been able to try the first time around.

Tandoor, 9525 Queens Boulevard, Flushing/Rego Park; Tel. (718) 997-6800‎

Open: 7 days for lunch and dinner

Credit cards accepted

Mains: $7.95-19.95; Appetizers: $2.50-6.95

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