Tadka, which cooks some potent and fabulous food, is far from your average Indian restaurant. It conveyed this message to me immediately with a posh, silky and nearly floor-to-ceiling red and gold banner hanging in the entryway bearing Tadka's name.
Tadka's panache and modern style were reinforced as I walked along its thin-slatted floor past diners spooning out fragrant food from curvy white serving bowls on black tablecloths.
Within seconds of being seated, I was presented with a free, full-sized appetizer - a bracingly spicy and delicious chilled Aloo Chaat (potatoes and chickpeas in a sort of cilantro pesto seasoned with chili, ginger, cumin and cardamom).
As I gazed past framed travelogue photographs on gray stucco walls, my eyes fixated on long streams of vertically arranged text recalling the tablets of the Ten Commandments. With a squint, I understood I wasn't reading about things I shouldn't do but rather about things I should grasp - it was a bunch of dictionary-type definitions describing Indian cuisine terminology.
Digging into the zesty chaat (an appreciated upgrade from the usual gratis papadam) and scanning the lengthy but easily navigable menu of common and uncommon dishes, I thought, so far, so great.
I placed my order and was happily surprised when the starter (Bhindi Amchur, $5, tangy, crispy and wonderful okra fries) arrived in scant minutes. Unfortunately things hit a snag thereafter. By way of explanation, when entrees finally arrived, I'd memorized every single definition on Tadka's walls. Word for freakin' word.
On another visit, after being warned that one entree would take a long time, it was delivered in, like, five minutes. But that was well before the soup and appetizers, which showed up mid-meal, without much apology or compensation for the screwup.
To be fair, Tadka's been open only about a month, and its servers are friendly and well-versed in the menu. So apart from kitchen timing and a few other flubups (being brought undercooked appetizers and incorrect entrees), this place is defying my usual expectations and giving chain restaurants (Tadka is based in Atlanta) a great name.
Here are some of the highly impressive, boldly flavored dishes I tried at Tadka - a place I will be revisiting soon.
• Birbali Shorba ($3) : An unusual and acidic soup I quite liked, made with tomatoes and oranges.
• Emperor's P latter ($18) : As Mel Brooks said: "It's good to be the king." This gargantuan entree was a parade of great grilled proteins, like a lobster-tail-sized shrimp coated with zingy curry; a long log of superlative shish kebab made with wonderfully aromatic ground lamb; tangy chicken tikka chunks; and tandoori chicken without the red food coloring but with evidence of deep yogurt marination.
• Rogan J osh ($14) : Though this goat curry presented a veritable minefield of bones to work through, it was mighty, a fabulous rendition of this famous dish. The tender, stewy meat was awash in a complex curry sauce scented with cinnamon and star anise.
• Murgh M ethi ($13) : About as addictive as meth. Tremendously tender chicken chunks were immersed in an herbally pungent (fenugreek, cilantro) curry gravy thickened with creamed cashews.
• Vegetable B iryani ($11) : Nice. Tinted and perfumed by turmeric, the dish was served strikingly - like all Tadka's oversized biryanis - capped with a thin pie crust.
• Halwa Dilbahar ($4) : Bright with cardamom and restrained in sweetness, this was a lively textured version of the favorite rice-pudding-like Indian dessert made with carrots and almonds.