Posted by: Sean Carter | December 8, 2013

#171: Taj Oven

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Today I thought I’d check out a sushi joint that I just noticed in the little shopping center cat-corner from Walmart by 65 and Pleasant Grove, only to discover that Sunday is the only day that they are not open for lunch.  Crap.  Backup plan: Taj Oven, an Indian restaurant located in the same center.  I called ahead to make sure they were doing buffet for lunch and was told it was all day, so I headed over.

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I arrived at about 11:40 and headed in to a pretty quiet little dining room.  There were a few tables occupied.  A moment after stepping into the dining area from the entryway I was greeted by who I believe is the owner/manager who seated me at a table I picked out in the corner.  I got started right away and headed over to the buffet to get my first plate.  The line looked well stocked, nothing was less than half filled and everything looked to be fresh.  This buffet is made up of a more typical restaurant buffet line with sectioned trays, rather than the big, space-hogging containers that sit on top of a table.  This is good because with the small size of Taj Oven they can fit more items in the limited space.

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I saw a lot of the usual items, slightly varied in some cases, and also a few new ones I’ve not encountered before.  These new ones were:

  • Chaat Padhi (crunchy, tangy and sweet flavor with chickpeas, potatoes and fried bread)
  • Fish Pakora (fish dipped in a special batter and fried to a golden perfection).
  • Aloo Masala (mashed potatoes cooked with Indian spices)

I scooped up those as well as the following:

  • Basmati rice
  • Channa Masala (chickpeas, onions and tomatoes cooked in a light sauce)
  • Navrattan Korma (nine fresh garden vegetables marinated in yogurt and cooked in cream and specially blended spices)
  • Sag Masala (spinach cooked with special masala sauce)
  • Chicken Tikka Masala (boneless pieces of chicken tikka cooked in creamy butter sauce with fresh tomatoes and fragrant spices)

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This was a full plate, so I would have to come back for the Chicken Vindaloo (hot and spicy chicken cooked with pieces of potatoes, fresh tomatoes and a touch of fresh lemon juice) and Goat Curry (pieces of goat cooked in mild curry).  Once I had sat down with my plate, the manager came back around to see if I wanted anything to drink besides water.  I asked for a mango lassi.  He was very nice and was even quite receptive to my photo-taking, where often I get suspicious or nervous looks from restaurant managers.

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Soon after I dug into my plate, I received a basket of fresh naan and a little while later my lassi which I suspect they made fresh, based mostly on the time it took and some blending noises that came from the kitchen.  The first thing I tried was the Chaat Padhi.  This was cold and that caught me off guard.  It had some nice spice flavors to it and a little zip at the end.  It was good, though I wonder if it would be even better hot.    Next up was Aloo Masala.  This was much more like basic mashed yellow potatoes than I was expecting.  It was quite mild, which is in contrast the the rich flavors found throughout the rest of the buffet.  The Chicken Tikka Masala was pretty much the same as everywhere else, meaning very good.  The chicken was nice and tender.

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The Channa Masala was kind of tangy and had a zip at the end.  It also had a nice texture with the chickpeas.  The Fish Pakora was probably my least favorite item.  It was fairly dry with decent, non-fishy flavor and some spice.  I ate both pieces but had no desire for more.  My favorites in this round were the Navrattan Korma and the Sag Masala.  Both were incredibly creamy.  The Navrattan Korma had what I’m pretty sure were big chunks of sweet potato.  Both of these dishes ended with a zing of spice, which actually seemed to be present in most of what I tried.  I didn’t have very much of the naan, mostly because I wanted to try more items and not fill up on bread and rice too quickly.  The little I had was warm and fresh, though it wasn’t was crisp as I prefer.  Based on the nice service I would guess it would be no problem to ask for that when you are first seated.  The mango lassi was one of the most flavorful and thickest lassis I’ve had in a long time.  It was a touch on the tart side and not as chilled as others.  I think this could be a top one for me if it were colder.

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On my second pass I picked up more Chicken Tikka Masala and Channa Masala.  The Goat Curry and Chicken Vindaloo were new for this one.  The vindaloo was very rich and flavorful, similar to the tikka masala, but less creamy.  I lucked out on my selection of goat pieces and didn’t get any bones.  This was pretty good, but fell short in comparison of the other items.  The goat was somewhat tender and very lean.

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I ended my lunch with a few pieces of Gulab Jamun (juicy, deep-fried cheese ball dipped in syrup, served warm).  I’m not sure if the description is accurate.  I’ve never heard of cheese in these, and they didn’t seem to have any.  These were fantastic as they usually are everywhere, like a warm, fresh donut hole soaked in a sweet, honey-flavored syrup.

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The total with my Lassi was about $14, so I would assume the buffet was about $10-something, which is about a buck more than the lunch buffets I am used to.  That said, pretty much everything was fantastic, the variety was above average and the service was great.  This was an excellent visit overall.

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