Having lived in New York my whole life, I am fully aware of the abundance of foreign cuisine available at every turn, and as a result, there are few types of food that I actually consider "foreign." Indian food is one genre that is somewhat foreign to me, and for no real reason either. The few times I've had it, I've enjoyed it, yet it's rarely one of those foods that I crave. Tamba, the relatively new Indian spot in Manhattan's "Curry Hill," could easily change my tune with it's affordable menu.
Monique accompanied me to this dinner, and we were both hit with the overpowering aroma of a million spices inside the earth-toned restaurant. Some people avoid Indian food for this reason, I, however, find it intriguing. We sat at a comfortable booth in the back room (which can be reserved for parties), and started out with some Lasani Gobhi (cauliflower sauteed in a garlicky tomato sauce), Tikki's (spinach cakes), and Chicken Tikka (boneless chicken in a tomato cream sauce). The cauliflower was definitely my favorite, with the chicken being a close second. Both were very flavorful, but the cauliflower just had this zing to it from the tomato sauce that made it drool-worthy. The spinach cakes weren't bad, but they were very heavy; I was glad we didn't get the potato version, because that would have been like a rock in my stomach.
For our entrees, I got Shrimp Vindaloo (shrimp and potatoes in a spicy red sauce), and Monique got the Lamb Korma (lamb cubes cooked with pineapple bits, nuts and mild spices). Both entrees arrived in little silver serving dishes with basmati rice on the side, and we also got two types of naan bread; Poori (deep fried whole wheat bread), and the Garlic Kulcha (garlic bread, basically). My shrimp was great, albeit a little greasy, but I really don't mind greasy. The spicy red sauce soaked into every shrimp and potato so well that it was like an explosion of flavor and spice; I actually just salivated a little thinking about it. Monique's lamb, however, paled in comparison. Literally. It was in a grayish-colored sauce, and it was lacking something - some sweetness, some salt, some spice – maybe all of the above. The lamb was tender, so it was kind of disappointing that it was drowned in this sauce that didn't have a whole lot of flavor. The bread saved the day though, especially the garlic kulcha; warm, soft and crispy at the same time with garlic bits and herbs baked in. Mmmm. We dunked it in the Vindaloo sauce and decided if someone gave us just that as a meal, we wouldn't complain about it.
We were really full by this time (another thing about Indian food – it's very filling due to all the carbo-loading), but still felt like some sweet dessert might be a good idea after all that spice. Mr. Malik, the owner of Tamba, came by our table to see how our meal went, and he suggested we try the Gulab Jamun for dessert. I wasn't sure what that was, but I figured if he recommended it, it can't be bad, and fortunately I was right. Two small dishes (about the size of my fist) came out with three little balls of dough soaked in a warm, sweet, saffron and cardamom syrup. It's very sweet, but it's very good. They are smart to give a small portion for dessert though, because any more than that and we would be have been in serious sugar-shock.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Tamba, which, in case you were wondering, means copper. This is why the restaurant has authentic copper ornamentation direct from India. See…this is what I do with things that are foreign to me: I learn about them. Dinner at Tamba was served to me spicy, with a side of knowledge.