Staten Island Advance
April 26, 2012
When New Dorp's Taste of India II opened in 1990, the curries and unique cuisine (for the borough) certainly stood out. And, no matter how busy was the single room which, at the time, comfortably held about 50 guests among smartly arranged booths, the restaurant maintained a placid feel about it.
Taste of India recently expanded into the next storefront with a glass-curtain facade, taking over the former Lento's, and, in effect, doubling its seating. At the time of our visits only two dining rooms were ready to receive guests — a stretch of bar with lounge-like seating for a la carte service and a separate space with a few booths at the back of the restaurant, an area designated for families looking for a more private setting. An overhaul of the "old" space is in the works.
That front area is striking — architectural, very comfortable and decidedly clubby — with squeaky-clean shiny surfaces and a black wall punctuated with illuminated blue squares. That field of light is intense, almost glaring depending on where you sit. Yet the blue hue cast over the room doesn’t necessarily do the beautiful looking food justice
Yes, that food — Taste of India's kitchen is just as outstanding as it was in its inaugural days on the dining scene. Meals still begin with complimentary pappadam (additional orders are $2 each), round and bumpy legume crackers fueled by cumin and a touch of salt. The crispy snack can be used like a potato chip with three accouterments: cilantro-mint sauce, coarsely chopped onion chutney mixed with chilies and a vivid red colored tomatoey paste plus a sweet-on-tang tamarind preparation. Those precursors ready the appetite for the meal.
By the way, heat in dishes stems from what is requested of the kitchen. And, servers are more than likely to coach patrons on what are their expectations for spice levels
Regulars of the restaurant may start with Vegetable, Meat or Taste of India platters, combinations of some of the kitchen’s most popular appetizers, generally fried. The Veggie version includes flaky, potato-filled samosas, onion fritters (great with that onion-chili chutney) and palak tikki with spinach and coriander (ideal with that cilantro-mint sauce.) One app special featured Eggplant Pakora, or eggplant “fritters” coated and gently fried in chick pea-flour tempura.
Mouthwatering Special Nan bread is baked with almond bits and raisins, Shahi Nan with coconut and sunflower seeds and Garlic Nan brushed with ghee and chopped fresh garlic. Gobhi Parantha, a special whole-wheat bread disc offered one evening, was “stuffed” with a light layer of cauliflower and onions — all delicious, fresh and piping hot from the tandoor.
The house's basic Biryani (rice) is the powerhouse for vegetables, chicken, shrimp, goat or combinations thereof. Occasional grains are flecked yellow with saffron and woven with flavors from the likes of bay leaf, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods and clove.
In general, curry combos (try the Gosht Eggplant with lamb or goat) are well balanced, seasoned with fresh curry leaves. Chicken Mahkni is rich and buttery, with poultry chunks smothered in a tomato-based medium sweetened by raisins and enhanced with a cashew crunch.
Palak Paneer — a pureed, garlicky spinach dish offset by creamy bits of paneer — was tasty but a bit shy on the cheese cubes. Taste of India Chicken (a special) featured tender, moist pieces of white meat cooked in a yellow curry — an excellent dish as was a basic Tandoor Chicken paired with copious semi-caramelized onion slivers.
Finish the meal with Kheer (rice pudding made with basmati,) Carrot Halwa (carrot basmati pudding), Gulab Jamun (sticky and refreshing, rose syrup-covered cheese balls) or assorted ice creams. Of course, there is no better way to douse a fire on the palate than with a yogurt-based, frappe-like lassi, ideally one whipped with honey and rose water.
Add consistent food to seamless service plus sincere hospitality and now you're talking about a great place. Despite the transition from a small, 22-year old spot into an expanded, modernized space, Taste of India hasn't lost its charm or serenity