Okay, a show of hands, please: who remembers the Cypress Street Bridge construction? Whoa! A LOT of you. Wasn’t that fun? Trying to figure out where the stop lights were, which lane was which, and God help you if you had to cross the bridge during the noon hour. It’s been completed for a few years now, though when Femme de Joie crosses it she can’t help but wonder when they’re going to replace those concrete pouring tubes with some actual street lights.
What you might not remember is that the construction and accompanying traffic jams were enough to contribute to the demise of at least two restaurants – Pellegrini’s Brazilian Steakhouse and Taj Mahal. It would seem that Pellegrini’s, that bastion of all things meat, is gone for good. However, Taj Mahal has risen from the ashes and reopened in the strip mall by PetCo just off Hilltop Drive.
The space is much smaller than the old restaurant, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Anchored with a sleek bar in the center, the dining room features tomato red walls and simple polished wood tables. Five televisions near the ceiling are always on but not obnoxiously loud, tuned to either CNN or a Bollywood movie.
Taj Mahal serves a buffet lunch for a bargain price of $9.99. It’s a good way to find out if you like Indian food.
Clockwise from top: aloo gobi, samosa, pakora, saag paneer, navratan korma, (in center) gheera rice.
Aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower) wasn’t M. de Joie’s favorite item – though the spicing was pleasing, the textures seemed to be identical and it was hard to say if one had a bite of aloo or gobi. The samosa and pakora were better; there was a nice crunchy coating on the potato-filled samosa pastry and the herby pakoras (fritters) would make a nice snack with a cold beer.
Saag paneer (spinach with homemade cheese), was like an Indian creamed spinach with mild heat level, a mineral-grassy spinach taste smoothed out with cheese. It contrasted on the plate with the tomato cream sauce of navratan korma, making a wonderful vegetarian pairing. Centering the plate was gheera rice – basmati rice cooked with cumin seeds, which makes a great variation from plain steamed rice.
Mango lassi, $2.99
If you don’t want beer to go with Indian food, a sweet, creamy mango lassi (made with yogurt, mangoes and water) is a great alternative. Not sticky-sweet like a milkshake, the fruity-tart drink is refreshing and cooling if the heat level seems to be too much.
Naan – a fluffy, tender bread – comes with the buffet as well as most menu items. Tear it apart to eat, or use it to scoop up chutneys.
Clockwise from top: chicken curry, beef curry, tandoori chicken.
Femme de Joie preferred the spicier beef curry over the somewhat blander chicken curry; the chicken itself seemed spongy and unappealing. However, the tandoori chicken was a winner. It’s one of those dishes that looks good and smells good but is nearly always dried out and tough. Here it was juicy with good smoky flavor and aromas.
Lamb biriyani, $13.99
This was just amazingly, wildly delicious. Spiced, tender lamb chunks were scattered throughout perfectly cooked basmati rice, skillfully seasoned and garnished with cilantro and coconut. M. de Joie ordered medium heat, but thinks she could have taken it up a notch, as the heat was not overwhelming or burning – just a pleasant level of warmth.
Bhindi masala, $10.99
You don’t see okra on many North State menus and more’s the pity, as it is delicious and adaptable to a variety of cuisines. Here it was browned first, then combined with onions and peppers and a generous amount of ginger. A sour tang came through now and then – M. de Joie thinks that was aamchur (dry mango powder). Not at all slimy as many people think, this had a much firmer texture than stewed okra and made an unusual vegetarian meal.
While Femme de Joie enjoyed the food and the surroundings at Taj Mahal, she does have one complaint. There is a difference between attentive service and annoying service. Waitstaff went rapidly from friendly and helpful to creepily invasive and ridiculously servile. In one 50-minute lunch, M. de Joie was asked no fewer than fourteen times if everything was all right or if she needed anything else. At one point she looked up to see the waitress staring at her – presumably to detect any signs of distress. M. de Joie started to wonder if perhaps she had something in her teeth or if one of her eyebrows had suddenly and without warning rearranged itself onto her forehead. Of course this overeagerness to serve comes from management’s orders, so Femme de Joie will take it upon herself right now to instruct Taj Mahal’s management: leave the diners alone and let them eat.
Other than that, the food at Taj Mahal is delicious and worth trying.
P.S. You can put your hands down now.
Taj Mahal, 1619 Hilltop Drive, Suite C, Redding, CA 96002. 530-722-9551, fax 530-722-9553. Open daily, 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM, Friday and Saturdays open until 11:00 PM. Lunch buffet, $9.99. Full bar. Parking lot. Vegetarian and vegan options. Cash and cards. Website at tajmahalredding.com
Femme de Joie’s first culinary masterpiece was at age 4, when she made the perfect fried bologna sandwich on white bread. Since then she has dined on horse Bourguignon in France, stir-fried eel in London, and mystery meat in her college cafeteria, but firmly draws the line at eating rattlesnake, peppermint and Hamburger Helper. She lives in Shasta County at her country estate, Butterscotch Acres West. She is nearly always hungry. Visit MenuPlease for more or send her an email at email@example.com.
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