The Austin Chronicle

Restaurant Review

Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, August 31, 2012, Food

Taj Mahal Indian Cuisine

12407 N. MoPac, Ste. 200-B; 837-4444
Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11am-2pm; Sat.-Sun., 11:30am-3pm;
dinner: Mon.-Thu., 5:30-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 5:30-10:30pm

The intersection of MoPac and Parmer isn't part of my regular flight path, so it took me a while to get out to Taj Mahal, Willie Abraham's sister restaurant to the long-established Taj Palace. I recruited a group of friends who live or work in that far northwest neighborhood to join me for dinner and the six of us were able to eat our way through the entire menu. The menu at the cozy Taj Mahal is almost identical to the one at the larger Taj Palace, and both restaurants offer lunch buffets at about the same price point. They are more than happy to pack food to-go and they also offer full-service catering.

Our dinner began with a basket of papadum, whisper-thin wafers of chickpea flour and black pepper, served with tiny bowls of Indian condiments, each featuring a different level of heat: mint, tamarind, and carrot chutneys, as well as a creamy raita. The crisp and spicy bites whetted our appetites, the Indian equivalent of chips and salsa, if you will. Next we shared appetizers: okra delight ($3.95), truly delightful batter-fried baby okra pods; paneer tikka ($6.95), marinated cheese cubes that emerged from the grill with crisp exteriors and soft insides; shammi kebab ($6.95), spicy patties of ground lamb and lentils; shrimp pakore ($6.95), plump shrimp in a light, crunchy fritter batter; and a bread basket ($6.95) with house versions of paratha, kulcha, and naan breads. Here again, a selection of light and tasty bites served to increase our anticipation for the entrées to come.

For those unfamiliar with Indian cuisine, the Taj Mahal menu offers an almost overwhelming array of choices, but there were enough diners in our group with Indian cuisine experience to help the neophytes make informed choices. If that's not the case when you visit, the charming and knowledgeable Willie Abraham will be only too happy to assist your party in ordering. Meats, fish, and vegetables that have been marinated in yogurt and spices before a visit to the ultra-hot tandoor are a light and healthy option here. They also offer a selection of curry sauces that can be prepared at the guest's preferred level of heat, paired with beef, chicken, lamb, shrimp, or paneer cubes. Biryani casseroles with rice and vegetables are also available with the same meat or cheese accompaniments. And because vegetable dishes are a staple of Indian cuisine, there is a full page of hearty options sure to satisfy hungry vegetarians. We ordered three items from the grill, two curries, and a biryani served family-style with heaping bowls of fluffy rice and shared a truly delicious and convivial meal, passing platters and bowls around the table.

My personal favorite was my own choice, lamb tikka masala ($12.50) with toothsome chunks of lamb bathed in a buttery sauce of tomato and nut puree – a complex and well-balanced curry without an assertively spicy finish. The saag curry with shrimp ($12.95) was another winner – rich, creamy spinach studded with plump shrimp. The chicken malai kebab ($11.95) was still incredibly moist and tangy from its marinade and the tandoor-crisped exterior of the salmon delight ($14.95) gave way to a meltingly tender, flaky filet that was almost outshone by the roasted potatoes and carrots completing the dish. Sharing plates had worked so well up to that point that we did the same with three desserts, all at $3.95. Gulab jamun are dainty pastry balls redolent of rose water and saffron, served in a pool of light honey cardamom syrup. Pista kulfi is the traditional Indian rendition of ice cream made with ground almonds and pistachios, and badamee kheer is a thin rice pudding. Each dessert offered a tantalizing bite of sweetness as the grace notes to a hearty and flavorful meal fit for a maharajah. It was a dining experience well worth a cross-town excursion and a pleasant discovery for those who live or work nearby.

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