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88 Exchange Street

Four and 1/2 plates  
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Tandoor Reviewed: Spring, 2004

In celebration of the snow day this past Wednesday, some friends and I decided to meet for a warm filling lunch at Tandoor on Exchange Street in Portland's Old Port. I had previously visited the sister restaurant, Shere Punjab in Brunswick, and delighted in their delicious cuisine, but had not yet had the opportunity to sample the equally enticing menu of Tandoor.

We arrived to find a completely empty restaurant. Several small metal bowls filled with various fresh Indian spices including cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks lined the shelf along the wall as we walked in. We had our choice of tables opting for a comfortable-looking setting for four close to the window. The décor in Tandoor is very appealing with its bright purple and lime green painted walls, unique light fixtures, a dim revolving crystal chandelier, colorful tapestries and paintings. The tables are adorned with white cloths covered with a sheet of glass for easy clean-up, while pre-settings of white plates with maroon napkin-wrapped utensils and water glasses await potential diners. Our server filled our water glasses promptly upon our seating and gave us each a multi-page menu to peruse. I tossed around the idea of getting a glass of wine or beer of which they offered Kingfisher, and 22 oz. Flying Horse or Taj Mahal amongst several domestic bottled brews, but I ended up sticking with my thirst-quenching water.

The menu is quite extensive listing several soups, appetizers and breads as well as rice dishes, seafood, lamb, chicken and vegetarian dishes and an entire page of lunch specialties comprised of their regular dishes at a reduced lunch price of $5.95 (and a mere $1.00 for the soups). This amazingly inexpensive price includes all the basmati rice and chutneys too. After looking through the lunch dishes and not seeing anything drastically pop out at me, I thought I might go for the regularly priced menu instead. I was really leaning towards some incredibly tempting Chicken Tikka ($9.95), tender boneless chicken pieces of white meat marinated in yogurt, herbs & spices roasted in the Tandoor over slow fire, or my all-time favorite Chicken Korma ($8.95), tender pieces of chicken in a special sauce with cashews, almonds & light cream, but something was telling me to be a bit more adventurous. I breezed through the lamb dishes, briefly considering the Lamb Badam Pasanda ($10.95), cubed pieces of lamb cooked in special mild sauce, with almonds, cashews, and raisins "A Mughlai delight", proceeded to skip the seafood section, and landed on vegetarian. It was the Malai Kofta ($9.95) that next caught my eye, "a true Mughlai delight", balls of freshly minced vegetables simmered in cardamom, saffron, garlic, cashews, and light cream sauce, until I realized that everyone else was being rather frugal and taking advantage of the luncheon specials. More than half of the vegetarian dishes are offered as lunch specials, unfortunately, all those excepting Malai Kofta.

By the time our waiter arrived to take our orders, I was still completely undecided. After everyone else ordered, from the lunch menu I quickly picked Sag Pakora, vegetable fritters cooked with ginger, garlic, and fresh spinach ($5.95). The second I said it, I remembered that I knew what that was, chock full of spinach, one of my least favorite vegetables. I was on the brink of cancelling, but I knew I was going to enjoy the fritters at least, so I stuck it out. It's about time I develop a taste for spinach anyway, it's healthy. We also requested a batch of fresh Garlic Nan ($2.95), leavened handmade white bread made with garlic, herbs & spices, served hot from the Tandoor, and Aloo Paratha ($2.95), a layered whole wheat bread, stuffed with shredded potatoes, peas and spices with butter on top, to start.

By this time, a few other customers had straggled in, but the restaurant was still very quiet. It took no more than ten minutes for our bread to arrive steaming hot from the Tandoor oven along with three tasty chutneys to accompany. The nan was wonderful, warm, soft in the center, crispy on the outside and full of aromatic flavorful spices including fresh garlic and cilantro, topped with a brush of delicious rich butter. The potato bread was equally as good, full of yellow curry spiced potatoes and a few green peas. We were able to eat most of the bread before our lunches quickly arrived about five minutes later. Our meals came in our own respective silver dishes to serve ourselves, accompanied by a very large platter of moist basmati rice accentuated by a few spices.

I was a little nervous when I first saw my dish. It was absolutely full to the brim with spinach, just as I had feared. Despite, I dug right in and found an amazingly delectable treat. It was so rich, with only a hint of the spinach flavor that I so often avoid. Two delicious fried vegetable fritters of battered potatoes, peas and spices were hidden beneath the filling sauce. I piled a generous portion of rice onto my plate and ate every bite of my Sag Pakora with pleasure. As a matter of fact, each and every one of us cleaned our plates, polished off all the bread and finished the last grain of rice. Everything was wonderful. One of my friends sampled the Sag Paneer, a dish very similar to mine, the spinach sauce atop cubes of fresh homemade cheese instead of the fritters. Someone else tried the Chicken Curry, braised chicken in a savory curry made of onions, tomatoes, fresh ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander and cloves, cooked to your desired spiciness and another enjoyed Shahi Korma, the choicest fresh vegetables along with homemade cheese, cashews & raisins, sauteed with ginger, cardamom, cloves & special spices. Although we were all rather full from our lunches, the desserts, mango ice cream ($2.00) and the Kulfee ($2.00), homemade Indian style pistachio and cashew ice cream with sweet noodles and rosewater, in particular, sounded very intriguing. But, someone in our party was having an uncontrollable urge for chocolate Ben & Jerry's instead, unfortunately a staple of Vermont cuisine, not Indian. Some of us helped ourselves to small spoonfuls of palate-cleansing anise seeds as we departed the warm hospitable restaurant to return to the snow.

wheelchair accessible
vegetarian selections
vegan selections
most credit cards accepted
We all were completely satisfied and satiated by our meals on this wintery day. Tandoor held up to our expectations and established itself amongst our list of excellent Indian restaurants in Portland. The convenient Old Port location is wonderful as well, a short walk to all the shops and busy waterfront. At $10 a piece, including tip, Tandoor is a great place for an inexpensive, filling, delicious lunch anytime. Tandoor is open every day serving lunch from 11am-3pm, dinner from 3pm-11pm and they also do take-out and catering.  back to the top


Tracy B. Wheeler is a classical flutist and freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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