A La Carte: Taj Mahal

By Columbus Alive
From the A La Carte: Taj Mahal edition
It's hard to believe now, but once upon a time, there was not a single Indian restaurant in Columbus.

Then, 25 years ago, the Taj Mahal changed all that by getting the local curry and tandoori balls rolling with its grand opening just north of the OSU campus. As a result, many people who do time at Buckeye U wind up learning the ropes of Indian food at this hallmark institution of a family-owned business.

If over the years a slew of new Indian restaurants have sprouted up - a few of them pretty interesting and ambitious - the Taj at least has not stood still. It semi-recently moved into newer and much bigger digs, which include a sprawling patio and a cocktail-friendly lounge.

Nonetheless, it took a press release last week announcing some monthlong specials celebrating the Taj's quarter-century of longevity to induce me to write about it. I don't know why I waited so long.

Spread out over several rooms in the old Casa di Pasta space, the Taj looks like a vintage Columbus house tricked out with lots of Indian tchotchkes and knickknacks. It feels quaint and comfy in a well-worn way.

In fact, getting reacquainted with the place reminded me of a snug old jacket I wore often in college. Originally, that now old-school wrap had seemed almost exotic, but I quit wearing it when it became passe. Then one day I tried it on again and discovered the jacket still fit and, damn, if it didn't even look OK.

A great way -and a great deal - to kick off a meal here is with the mysteriously named yet really fun-to-munch Assorted Appetizer ($7.50). Expect a veggie-heavy plate loaded with a terrific samosa (a not-too-thick savory pastry with a spunky pea and potato filling) plus several crunchy, easy-to-love, breaded and fried (yet too greasy) pakora-type nibbles sprinkled with an eggy-tasting (from black Indian salt) chaat masala seasoning mix.

Entree-wise, I went with a couple of classic rockers (each $15) that I long ago cut my subcontinent teeth on at the old Taj Mahal. And both the Chicken Tikka Masala (boneless, skinless breast chunks in a potent tomato curry/gravy popping with chili heat slightly smoothed out with stewed tomatoes, cooked onions and green peppers) and the Lamb Vindaloo (stewy chunks of lamb intensified by a tawny-colored, deeply flavored curry brightened with a splash of vinegar) managed to ignite a familiar party in my mouth.

If, like me, you've been playing the field and neglecting your first Indian-food flame, then January's Taj specials are a great reason to catch up with the hot-curry love that originally turned you on. G.A. says party on, Taj.

Happy anniversary

Throughout the month of January, Taj Mahal will donate 5 percent of sales from each Tuesday to the Salvation Army. Also, on Sundays, guests with a current OSU ID receive 15 percent off food orders. Daily specials are as follows:

Monday nights: Buy one entree, get the second for half-price

Tuesdays: Half-off drinks all day

Wednesdays: Half-off appetizers all day

Thursday nights: $10 bottles of Sula Indian wines

Friday nights: Live tabla fusion music

Saturday nights: 25 percent off Taj exclusive cocktails

Sunday nights: $1 lassi and $3 martinis