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Taj: a spicy delight

Tampa is a hub of many cultures, much to the delight of diners across the Bay area. In a city where culinary choices range from Armenian to Vietnamese, one Indian restaurant is giving others a run for their money.

At Taj, a tiny gem located near USF, the scent of rich spices that perfumes the air inside is initially overwhelming but subsides as the senses acclimate. The aroma is certainly unusual in comparison to traditional American restaurants.

Low lighting, colorful tapestries and linen napkins give the restaurant an upscale feel. The hand-carved wood decorations on the walls look like artwork.

The menu is arranged according to the main component of dishes, including chicken, lamb, beef, goat, seafood, vegetarian and rice. The menu also has a tandoori section, a style of barbecue cooked in a high-heat clay oven over charcoal or wood.

Next to each dish is a brief description of the dish’s components. Picky eaters or those new to Indian food should bring an experienced friend along for their first trip, as the descriptions can be a bit vague. Most of the entrees are served spicy but can be toned down or heated up to suit the diner’s palate.

White saffroned basmati rice with cilantro is served alongside most dinners, and two cracker-like wafers are served immediately after ordering. The wafers are served with three sauces: a mild green sauce that tastes of lemon and ginger, a brown sauce that has the consistency of soy sauce with a sweet flavor and a hot red sauce that is made with tomatoes.

The entrees at Taj are reasonably priced from $8.95 to $16.95, with most providing enough food for two meals.

The variety of homemade breads offered manages to balance the spicy flavors and makes eating such hot food a more comfortable experience. Nan is an unleavened bread baked in the tandoori oven with a texture and taste similar to a doughy version of a soft tortilla. Another meal starter, paneer pakoras, is a homemade cheese dipped in chickpea batter and fried. The taste is similar to a spicy mozzarella stick. Both dishes are nicely complemented by the three sauces.

For entree’s, the tandoori shrimp is served on a hot plate with onions, green peppers and cilantro, similar to fajitas at a Mexican restaurant. Despite the flaming red appearance of the shrimp and sizzle of the hot plate, the dish was not too spicy, and the white rice aids in cooling it down.

Alu gobi masala, one of the many vegetarian entrees available, is a mixture of cauliflower and potatoes cooked in ginger and garlic. The vegetables are covered in a brown sauce that looks similar to gravy, but has a sweet, flavorful taste. The vegetarian dishes are priced around $9 and are definitely enough for two meals.

Taj’s food is a must for those who want something more than the typical burger and fries. Its location, variety of dishes and romantic ambiance make it worth a visit.

Grade: A-