There is a reason Tandoori has thrived for 35 years.
At a time when Israel’s restaurateurs are threatening drastic action – a one-day strike during the height of the Eurovision crush – to protest crippling government regulation, and in the wake of the many recent restaurant closures we have already chronicled in these pages, it is a distinct pleasure to celebrate a success story: Tandoori entering its 36th year, serving Indian food representing the broad range of diverse cuisines of that exotic subcontinent.
Immediately upon entering the spacious restaurant, strategically located in the heart of Dizengoff Circle, one is enveloped by the smells and sounds of India. The décor is characterized by handsome leather and wood furnishings, and colorful parasols hanging from the ceiling, while a new outdoor al fresco seating area will be unveiled in the spring.
The Tandoori chain – there is a sister restaurant in Herzliya Pituah, although the kosher Jerusalem outpost closed – is very much a family affair. If the energetic materfamilias Reena Pushkarna is not personally on the premises, she is featured on a large screen demonstrating how to prepare classic Indian dishes.
There are no specialty cocktails, but the limited bar will mix the classics. The wine list itemizes three red and three whites, including one of each designated as the house wines, all available by the glass. My beverage of choice, however, is Kingfisher beer, imported from India.
The leather-bound English menu is an impressive eight-page tome, enumerating no fewer than 83 dishes. We are informed that there are plans to streamline the overall menu, while augmenting the already substantial vegan category.
The menu sections are Appetizers (vegetarian and non-vegetarian) (NIS 30-69), Salads (NIS 10-29), Soups (NIS 28), Tandoori clay oven specialties (NIS 70-159), Curries (NIS 79-82), Vegan (NIS 49-52), Vegetarian with paneer (NIS 55-72), Breads (NIS 12-30) and Rice biryanis (NIS 29-80). There is also a plethora of gluten-free options.
As we waited for our order, we snacked on the garlic naan – a huge, soft flatbread (much like a lafa) studded generously with chopped garlic.
We began with the mixed vegetarian platter for two – samplings of five varieties of appetizers, featuring primarily potato, sweet potato, spinach and onion. Although everything was fried, nothing was oily; the makai palak pakoda and onion bhajia were especially noteworthy.
It was also great fun dipping the vada, pakoras, samosas and pakoda in the unique condiments: a tomato sauce that is akin to an Indian ketchup, mango pickle, mint pesto, and tamarind. Raita – yogurt with cucumber – is not among the complimentary array, but it is a recommended extra.
As a main course, my vegan companion ordered the Aloo Gobi Masala: cauliflower florets and cubed potato stir-fried in cumin seeds. It was a delicious combination, which left a tingle of gentle heat in the mouth.
I ordered the Chicken Biryani, a baked casserole of rice and white meat chicken. This superbly seasoned Indian version of the Central Asian pilaf was quite simply the best biryani I have tasted in Israel.
We were delighted when the manager took it upon himself to bring each of us an extra treat: Palak Makki for my friend, and Chicken Tikka Masala for me. The former was a dish I had never before encountered: a purée of spinach with corn kernels, cooked in a vegan gravy. It turned out to be rich, creamy and outstanding.
Chicken tikka is, of course, a staple of tandoori (clay oven) cuisine, distinguished by its bright orange color. Here, the succulent chunks of tender, boneless chicken practically melted in the mouth.
There are five desserts (NIS 35) on a separate menu. The moist, fudgy brownie, served with chai masala, is a great option for chocolate lovers, while those determined to have a purely Indian dessert would do well to order the pistachio kulfi, ice cream made from condensed milk and distinctive spices.
It would take many visits to Tandoori to make the slightest dent in the menu, and that does not even take into account its new South Indian menu or attractive lunch deals: the all-you-can-eat buffet in Herzliya Pituah, and thali (assorted cooked dishes served with rice) business lunch (with free refills) in Tel Aviv.
On your way out, don’t forget to grab a handful of the traditional Indian post-prandial, candy-like, licorice-flavored mouth freshener. Tandoori
Zamenhof St. 2, Tel Aviv
Sun-Fri: 12 noon-3:30 p.m. and 6:45 p.m.-12 midnight
Sat: 1 p.m.-4:30 p.m.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
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