2010-12-15 / Restaurant of the Week



Tawa Tandoor Indian Restaurant opened just about a month ago and is already welcoming a loyal clientele of diners who come for fine, fresh Indian cuisine, prepared on the spot, using the freshest ingredients. The gorgeous, contemporary décor and expertly prepared dishes add to the allure of this newcomer in the "Little India" section of Jackson Heights. Tawa Tandoor is easy to get to, just downstairs from the Roosevelt Avenue station where a slew of trains go, and is accessible to everyone's budget, thanks to the low prices. The cozy dining room features rich, dark wood floors, wall panels and tables with sumptuous leather chairs. Leather banquettes are backed with fine upholstery in warm red tones. The service is polite and efficient and the food is just great, all overseen by owner Punit and manager Pradhan.

We were treated to a banquet of delicious dishes in nearly every category they offer, from vegetarian to lamb and chicken dishes, breads and more. We began with samosas, flaky pastries filled with potatoes, peas and mild spices that are just addictive ($4.50). Amaratsari kulcha is freshly made flat bread filled with savory potatoes, coriander seeds, toasted cumin seeds, green chili, cilantro and ginger, all baked in the tandoor clay oven for lightness and flavor. Aloo chaat is a mix of chick peas, potatoes and onions with tamarind and mint sauce that is light and very flavorful. From the clay tandoor comes a Royal Platter Sizzler that is the ideal starter to share. A generous serving of succulent shish kebabs, chicken tike, chicken marinated in yogurt, and juicy prawns offers the best of all flavors from this unique clay oven. Hot, flavorful soups warm you up such as Indian style tomato soup with a dash of pepper, cilantro and ginger.

For your main course, you'll find plenty of lamb, chicken and goat dishes, as well as fish and seafood, and a host of vegetarian dishes. We tried an Indo- Chinese specialty called "hakka chili chicken" which was excellent. Tender morsels of chicken are prepared with fresh herbs and chili, with or without sauce ($10.99). Keema matar is ground lamb cooked with peas, whole spices, onion, ginger, and green pepper, garnished with fresh coriander for a very tasty dish, especially when spooned over the fluffy basmati rice that accompanies each dish. We tried the classic chicken tikka masala and loved the creamy sauce and tender chunks of chicken. The word "Tawa" signifies the round metal grill on which their fabulous breads are made. You'll definitely want to order some fluffy naan bread, onion kulcha or whole wheat paratha bread to soak up all these wonderful flavors. While all Indian food is flavorful, it isn't all hot, so your helpful wait staff will help you navigate the menu, if you have any trepidation.

The clay tandoor renders the juiciest, most succulent meats, including chicken, shrimp and lamb chops, or enjoy a mixed tandoor grill so that everyone can sample their favorites. Seafood specialties include jumbo prawns in a delicious curry with mustard, chili and onions, or grilled fillet of mahi mahi served with onion, tomato, and fragrant masala.

Vegetarians will try to decide among a dozen meatless dishes including my favorite, palak paneer, which is a creamy stew of spinach cooked with tiny cubes of freshly made cheese and mild spices. Dal Makhini is black lentils simmered slowly with onion, butter and tomato ideally served over basmati rice. Speaking of rice, a number of rice biryani dishes are made here, cooked in the traditional way with the addition of your choice of shrimp, lamb, goat, chicken or vegetables. Biryani is cooked and served in a traditional pot to capture all the delicious juices and flavors ($10.99).

Sweeten your palate with the Indian version of rice pudding called Kheer malai, scented with almonds and sweet milk, or gulab jamun, which are soft balls of cheese floating in sweet honey. We were served a very special dessert of grated carrots mixed with sweet milk and cheese that was so good, I can't wait to come back for more. Have some nice tea to go with your dessert and then take a stroll around this international community before jumping back on the train.

Tawa Tandoor is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner with economical lunch specials that keep this restaurant full. Enjoy a romantic, exotic dinner any night of the week at Tawa Tandoor, where the food, the décor and the service are a step above the competition. Welcome to the neighborhood Tawa Tandoor!

37-56 74th Street • Jackson Heights

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