Exotic flavors. The scent of spices. Vivid colors. Ambient lighting. This is the world of Tandoor, a world of fine cuisine prepared and served in the traditions of India.
Open Tandoor’s elegantly carved doors and walk into another time and place, one where the recipes, the spices, and the process of cooking stands far removed from western culture. The key to cooking here is the tandoor oven, a stainless steel oven not unlike a pottery kiln, lined in clay, flames curling up the sides to cook the flat breads that line its sides and seasoned meats and seafood laced onto three-foot long skewers.
Owner Nasir Hakeem demonstrated the art of making appetizing breads in his tandoor oven. Pressing cheeses, nuts and spices into the dough, he kneads it briefly, rolls it out and, using a heavy black mitt, slaps the dough onto the clay side of the circular oven, where the flames below slowly crisp and bubble the bread. Crispy on the outside, creamy with melted chesses inside. Grilled meats are seasoned first, then strung on a skewer to cook and crisp up in the flames. The aromas and the taste are tantalizing and delicious.
Soups and salads include a Lentil Soup, Chicken Mulligatawny (chicken cooked with lentils), Kachomer (cucumbers, onions and tomatoes in a yogurt dressing) and a spiced Mango Chutney, all priced between $3-$5.
Appetizers include a deep fried and spiced Chicken Cultlet, a marinated and deep-fried Tilapia, Cheese Pakora (deep fried battered cheeses) and a delectable Prawn Masala (prawns cookedwith tomatoes and seasoned with black and white pepper). Appetizers come in substantial portions and are priced at up to $8.
One could feast on the breads alone; Tandoor offers flat tandoor-baked breads seasoned with garlic and cilantro, mixed nuts, chicken and cheese, and plain white flour bread generously buttered and crisped. The dinner plate-sized breads are sliced in halves or quarters and meant to be eaten “as is” or dipped in many of the delicious sauces and seasonings of the main course. Our serving of bread filled with pistachio and other nuts, spices and cheese came hot from the oven, literally melting in our mouths.
The main courses include multiple recipes for chicken, lamb, seafood and vegetables/lentils.
Over several visits, I’ve sample the Chicken Tikka Masala, tender and perfectly seasoned at the medium level of spices, is served in a creamy sauce of tomatoes and spices. The Mughulai Chicken is tender white chicken cooked with a variety of nuts — pistachios, cashews, almonds, coconut — in a creamy sauce sweetened with honey.
My dining companion favored the lamb dishes, including an aromatic and dramatic house specialty, four substantial chops cooked with spices and served on a “sizzler” — a scorching hot platter that sends a cloud of steamy spices smoking over the table. It’s worth ordering simply for the drama of it; the tender meat and subtle seasonings make it a trademark dish.
Lamb dishes come in a variety of style and flavors: with peppers, onions and tomotaoes, in a coconut cream sauce with nuts, with spinach in a cream sauce, with vegetables, mint and yogurt, with chilies, ginger and spices, and with a hot Vandallo sauce.
The Prawn Bhurdi with vegetables and Creamy Prawn Pasanda includes perfectly jumbo prawns that melt in your mouth. Lobster Masala is a marinated lobster cooked in the tandoor oven and served with a tomato based sauce.
Vegetarian offerings Bangen Ka Bartha, a tandoor-baked eggplant dish with herbs and spices, and anumber of dishes with cheeses, lentils, spinach, mixed fresh vegetables, garlic and all the traditional spices.
The main courses are accompanied by steaming family-sized cooper-clad dishes of Basmati rice or a vegetable seasoned rice cooked in rose water. Main dishes are presented in individual serving dishes with ornate handles. The oversized dinner plates are essential to hold the rice, the entree portions and the breads.
Hakkem explained that there are 28 herbs and spices in use in Tandoor’s traditional recipes, including cilantro, mint, curry, ginger, tumeric, saffron, chilies, cayenne, cardomom, coriander. fennel mustard seed, cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, poppyseeds, peppercorns, cloves, mace, cumin, and more. Add to the spices assorted nuts, cheeses, yogurt, tomatoes, chili peppers, coconut milk, mango and vegetables and the result is a taste far removed from American fare, a delicious taste that transports you to another culture. The mix is exotic, the colors vibrant, and the taste inspirational. The portion size is ample; no one leaves Tandoor still hungry.
All dishes at Tandoor can be made with a variety of “heat;” one can order low levels of spice or bravely opt for “as hot as you can make it.” Which is eye-burning, tear-making, mouth burning hot. Surpisingly, the mid-level spice range, medium, was far less ‘hot” than I expected, and I found myself moving up to the next level on a second visit.
All the dishes are prepared to order, which makes dining at Tandoor a leisurely experience, though one well worth waiting for. Entree prices range from $16-$28.
Tandoor also serves Indian and American beers.
At the back of the main restaurant is a separate, behind-closed doors smoking section called the Hookah Club, which offers water-based pipes and flavored tobaccos (apple, peach, banana, and a dozen others) for those who choose to smoke. A hookah is an Eastern smoking pipe, usually with an urn of water and several tubes, allowing several people at a time to smoke. Membership in the Hookah Club is $10 a year, and members and guests must be 18 to use the room.
The dining room is spacious, with booths, tables, and traditional Indian seating on raised platforms lined with colorful pillows in the hues of spices, smoky mirrors on the walls, and bamboo beaded strands giving ambiance and the barest hint of privacy. Simple pierced clay shades light individual tables, and ornate carved screens seperate the dining area from the entrance and kitchen. Tandoor sets a mood to match the cuisine, and offers its guests unparalleled Eastern taste.
Visiting Tandoor as a large group on several occasions allowed us to share and taste a wide variety of this restaurants unique and perfectly prepared dishes, noting our favorites for future reference. And we’ve gone back, referencing them a number of times.
Service is smooth, attentive, and courteous, and Nakeem keeps a close eye on his customers, ensuring that the dishes he prepares and serves are just what his customers ordered.
Tandoor is located at 116 Morris Drive, off Wilma Rudolph Boulevard near the Governor’s Square Mall. They are open Tuesday through Sunday, but closed on Mondays.
Located on the web at http://www.tandoorclarksville.com/