After almost three decades, the iconic Taj Mahal closed a couple of months ago. Yup, it’s sad to lose a once-pioneering restaurant that introduced many freshly minted Buckeyes to their first taste of Indian food. But Mughal Darbar — Taj’s replacement (the owners of Taj and Mughal Darbar are relatives) — is more stylishly picking up where its predecessor left off.
Occupying Taj’s former High-Street-facing, pleasant patio-equipped space, MD has reinvigorated the old north-of-campus domicile with a punch of panache. Now, the front dining room is imbued with a golden hue, food comes out in mirror-like metal bowls and platters, and members of the waitstaff (it’s basically family here) wear waistcoats.
Beverage-wise, a few upscale beers (like $3.50 selections from Great Lakes) supplement a short but apt Indian suds list ($7 for 22 ouncers). There are also some prudently chosen “grocery store” wines and a few house cocktails have been concocted. From the latter selection, I tried a barely-there Calcutta Lime soda ($7) and also light — if much nicer — mildly sweet and spicy take on a Bloody Mary ($8).
Of course it’s the food that matters most here. MD’s cuisine is advertised as Mughlai, which ostensibly means more Persian accents and whole spices rather than curry powders. In practice, most items I ordered off MD’s cliche-bucking menu exhibited nuance and distinction — making this newbie definitely worth seeking out.
Starter-wise, I had to ask twice if the wow-that’s-good Vegetable Soup ($4) — which contained bits of paneer, green beans and mushrooms — was meat-free. Though I was told it was, its rich and deeply flavored opaque blond broth tasted pretty chickeny to me.
An impressive and easily-feeds-two-huge Vegetable Platter ($18) was undoubtedly meatless. That colorful cornucopia offered neat Hara Bhara Paneer Tikka (hulking blocks of tandoor-charred homemade cheese with a tangy red crust); hearty Tandoori Bharvan Aloo (like Indian potato skins, they’re grill-roasted spuds stuffed with a paneer, pea and nut mixture); aromatic Phalahari Seekh Kebeb (grilled little spicy housemade veggie sausages); dense and puffy naan; a curry du jour (e.g. a forceful little veggie medley) and a dessert, such as homemade mango kulfi (like ice cream) brightened with cardamom. Yeah, that’s a lot — but it was all good stuff.
Also terrific was the Goat Dhaba Style ($13) curry. More-sweet-than-gamey lamb-y meat was swamped in a killer kadhai-type (aka karahi-type) dark tomato gravy enlivened with cloves, bell peppers, onion and cardamom. While the meat wasn’t super-tender, this dish was plate-lickingly delicious.
MD also offers Handis — biryani-like assemblies named after the pot that everything cooks together in. The Murgh Handi ($12.50; murgh means chicken) was a moist, fluffy and spicy dish in which tender dark meat chicken, mint and ginger lent lots of interest to moist and fragrant basmati rice.
The Shrimp Saag Wala ($14) was at least as interesting. Here, plenty of sweet and biggish shellfish were carefully (not over) cooked and submerged in a rich-yet-vibrant sauce of curried and pureed spinach further aromatized by bits of sauteed garlic and onion. As with practically every item I sampled at this take-notice newcomer, it’s a heady and recommended dish that rose well above the expected norm for its Northern Indian genre.
Photos by Meghan Ralston