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Photo by: Joe Putrock

A Tip for the Tongue
By B.A. Nilsson

Tandoor Palace
423 Madison (at Lark), Albany, 463-4123. Mon-Thu 11-10:30, Fri 11-11, Sat noon-11, Sun noon-10. D, MC, V.
Cuisine: Indian-Pakistani
Entrée price range: $5.50 (aloo gobi and many others) to $11 (Tandoori shrimp)
Ambiance: nothing fancy
Clientele: bargain hunters

They’ve become of a piece, these Indian restaurants. While there are a few exceptions, like Sitar’s fine-dining approach, most offer a buffet lunch and a dinner menu as standardized as any McDonald’s. Glass-topped tables, cursory decor, perhaps a Bollywood video or at least some characteristic music. Corelle dinnerware, paper napkins—from the house standpoint, it’s not a budget buster. Where does that put you, then, in the greater overall dining experience?

It all depends on your enthusiasm for this cuisine. What we think of as Indian food, as presented by a decades-old restaurant tradition, comes from the Punjab region and includes recipes from what’s now Pakistan.

Heavy on spices and sauces, it acquired an unfair rep as something merely spicy (in the sense of mouth heat) and has taken a while to remind us that the true meaning of all those spices is not some form of oral intrusion but rather a deft and studied blend of substances intended to promote the body’s harmony and health.

Besides, we’ve gotten used to food that’s more heat-spicy than our parents preferred. If you haven’t, if you’re cautious about it, it’s time for your initiation. Visit Tandoor Palace and order the lamb vindaloo ($7). You’ll be cautioned that it’s spicy. Yes, you’ll say. Bring it on.

You’ll be served a dish of rice and a dish of what looks like lamb stew, to combine as you wish on your plate. The first forkful will be your alert, a summons to the taste buds. “Alert!” the cry is sounded. Something unprecedented is happening within! You’ll savor the sweetness of the sauce, the richness of the lamb’s distinctive flavor.

It’s the second forkful that sets the alarms ringing. Actually, that first bite was a Trojan horse, delivering its payload of heat while the sugars kept your mouth distracted.

You will become aware of body parts you’d never before thought to study. The esophagus, for instance, will reveal itself by the warmth of the material passing through. The tongue will take on the dimension and characteristics of an old-fashioned window shade, first by asserting a surface area far in excess of what you expected, every pore now dancing with heat, and then, as the heat really kicks in, by acting as if on a spring-loaded release, hurtling up and back into your mouth while making a wocketa-wocketa-wocketa sound. Your lips will turn surprisingly numb, preventing you from feeling the waterfall of perspiration coursing down from your forehead.

Pause for a moment. Reflect on the fact that your body isn’t really on fire. It just never learned how to deal with capsaicin, the pepper-contained chemical that causes this response, and when the body is confused, it suggests that the sensation is pain. And it’s at that very moment releasing a dose of pleasurable endorphins that will shortly calm your troubled senses.

Meanwhile, take a sip of mango lassi, a yogurt-based beverage that soothes the fiery palate. Here’s the most important part: Go back in the trenches. Dose yourself again. Keep doing it until you’ve polished off at least half of the helping.

The heat drops away; you’re in a sensory free fall. The addictive quality of those endorphins—well known to runners—will draw you back to spicy food.

Not that you have to sear your mouth to enjoy the food here. Lamb qorma ($8), for instance, gives you braised chunks of lamb in a cream-rich sauce flavored with almonds and cashews, with a side dish of rice. Five other qorma preparations apply a similar sauce to other meats and vegetables.

This is a great source of meatless items, with wonderful use of spinach, chick peas, cauliflower, eggplant and much more. And don’t overlook the classic dal preparations, such as masoor dal ($5.50), a buttery lentil stew that makes a nice accompaniment for a spicy meat dish.

There’s a tandoor oven, of course, and the meat that emerges from it is tender and moist. The chicken ($7), with its striking red coloring, proved a good example of that, arriving on a sizzling platter with a heap of onion and pepper slices to brace the lemony bird.

Naan ($1.25), the flat but puffy bread, is also baked in that hot clay oven; I like it plain to push around my sauce-covered plate, but you can get it, for a dollar or more extra, with added potatoes or a combo of fruit and nuts. Puri ($1.25), a puffy wheat bread, arrived at our table already deflated, which was unfortunate.

As you already may know from the lunch buffet, you can make a meal just from appetizers. Pakoras are a type of fritter dipped in a chick-pea-flour-based batter; samosas are vegetables (potatoes and peas seem most popular) wrapped in pastry and deep-fried. They should replace the fried mozzarella sticks and suchlike on bar menus.

Because the appetizer ka-chori ($3) is billed as “too difficult to put into words,” we tried it and found a flavorful compote of chickpeas, greens, and something fried, covered with a sweet tamarind sauce and a pungent yogurt sauce. It would make a nice summer meal.

The food here is definitely on a par with what you find elsewhere in the area, and, if the place seems a little more humble in the decor department, the prices are suitably lower to match. Solve the parking problem in this busy neighborhood and you’ll be assured of a satisfying meal.

Table scraps: New chef? New menu? New restaurant? Or do you have an unusual special event coming up? Send us your scraps! Your most efficient path is to e-mail the news to food@banilsson.com.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.

We want your feedback

Have you eaten at Tandoor Palace or any other recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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