It was the last night of J.’s visit to Phoenix and I wasn’t sure what to as far as dinner was concerned. Since J.’s arrival, we had done Southwestern, Thai, German, Israeli, Belgian, and Irish. I could have taken the easy way out and just gone to an old standby, but J. mentioned a craving for Indian food, so I made the mad dash to find a suitable restaurant.
One place that has been suggested by fellow blogger Omer was Tandoori Times, located on 5th Avenue in Scottsdale just inches north of Indian School Road. I knew nothing about the place except that it was supposedly upscale and Omer said it had some of the best Indian food in the Valley.
J. and I dressed and headed over to the place. Even at 8:30 PM, the place was hopping with a packed parking lot and people streaming in and out of the front door. We parked the car and entered and were immediately hit with the aroma of spices and something cooking on the grill. We were in the rather large lobby for a moment or two before the owner told us he would seat us in just a second.
We were taken to a table off to one side of the restaurant, but it had a great view of the kitchen and the rest of the dining room. We were handed menus and told our server would be with us momentarily.
As we waited, we looked over the menu and the first thing I noticed was the absence of any sort of appetizer section. No vegetable pakora or samosas of various stripes were found anywhere on the menu. There was a section of salads, but nothing beyond that as a starter.
Our server arrived with water and introductions. I mentioned the appetizer issue with him and he said they did have one appetizer sort of hidden in the salad section. He then asked for our drink order and we ordered two Diet Cokes ($1.50 each). We had toyed with the idea of getting one of the beers from India (Kingfisher, Blue Himalayan, or Taj Mahal), but ultimately decided to hold off.
After our server returned to the kitchen, we decided what to order for our meals. When he returned, we opted to try the one appetizer, Aloo Tikki ($5.00). Then, we went down the menu as to what we wanted. We started with Papadums ($2.00). That would be followed by the Palak Paneer ($10.00), the Lamb Vindaloo ($12.00) and the Chicken Tikka Masala ($11.00). We also got a side of Mango Chutney ($2.00). I couldn’t resist ordering Naan, but J. and I had a tough decision regarding which kind to get. Thankfully, the restaurant offered a Naan Bread Basket ($8.50) which featured one of each kind (plain, garlic, potato, and onion).
While waiting for our food, J. mentioned the fact that Tandoori Times had belly dancing and we thought it might be on tap for the night of our visit, but we were mistaken. The belly dancer would have had a lot of ground to cover as the restaurant was expansive, despite the fact that it was housed in an a strip mall. There were plenty of booths and tables and an outdoor patio. The interior featured low lighting and sheer curtains dividing various seating sections. It was very comfortable.
The Papadums arrived and I wondered if they were made in house. The charred edges of one had put that thought in my head. Additionally, the papadums were folded over like a tortilla on its way to becoming a taco. We broke them in half and topped them with the chutneys that were on the table. The papadums were very crisp and light with a bit of heat to them. The chutneys were interesting in that one was the traditional mint and cilantro mix, but the tamarind chutney was replaced by something that resembled a plum sauce in color. It was slightly sweet and then had a strong kick of heat at the end. There was a third chutney on the table that we couldn’t identify, but we were enjoying the other two and didn’t try any.
When our Aloo Tikki arrived, J.and I were ready to attack it. My Irish Breakfast had definitely worn off and I was all but famished. The Aloo featured two fried potato patties topped with onions, mint, tamarind chutney and garbanzo beans. The patties were searing hot, but when they cooled slightly, they were light and fluffy inside. The mixture of tamarind, onion, and mint was very bright and refreshing and a perfect compliment to the potatoes. Tandoori Times may have had only one appetizer, but it was a very good one.
We waited about 10 minutes after our Aloo before our main dishes arrived. When they did, we were overwhelmed by the aromas. Our table was crowded with dishes and we pushed items off into the corner of the table to free up some room.
The Lamb Vindaloo was a serving of chunks of lamb and potatoes in a rich, spicy sauce. J. had some trepidation about trying it because of the reputation vindaloo has for being a super spicy dish. This version, however, was highly spiced, but not as bad as J. thought. The lamb pieces were tender and chocked full of flavor. The potatoes were perfectly cooked and a nice balance to the dish. The sauce itself was fantastic and full of flavor with a solid spiciness that was appealing.
The Chicken Tikka Masala was a wonderful mix of large chunks of tandoori cooked boneless chicken in a creamy, spicy tomato sauce. The chicken was melt-in-your-mouth and the sauce was killer. It was spicy, but not so hot as to be off-putting. The creaminess of the sauce made it a big winner with me and J. was happy with the dish as well. As much as I loved the chicken, though, the sauce was the best part of the dish.
The Palak Paneer was the standard creation of spinach mixed with homemade cheese cut into cubes. This was a very interesting paneer to me because it was so exceptionally fresh. The spinach taste was bold and the cheese was creamy, but still had plenty of body. I thought, however, that the paneer could have used a bit more seasoning or even some spice to cut the taste of the spinach. The menu said the paneer was cooked with ginger and garlic, but I couldn’t taste either. Still, it was a very good dish.
Our Mango Chutney was quite good. There was nothing exceptional about it, but it did provide a pleasantly sweet addition to the meal.
The hands-down winner on the table was the Bread Basket of Naan. There were four large naan in the basket, each with a different flair. J. and I decided to start at the top and work our way down. The first was the Garlic Naan. The bread was light and soft with some dark browning here and there. We liked the taste, but both wished it had a more pronounced garlic taste. The second bread was the plain naan. I thought it was fantastic. It was perfect for mopping up the sauces on our plates. The potato naan was the next one up and it was superb. A thin layer of mashed potatoes was stuffed inside the bread and it had a wonderful texture and taste that was only enhanced by the sauces on the table. The last naan was lightly filled with caramelized onions and it was out of this world. Completely sublime and probably the best naan I have ever had. J. and I both said that particular naan was the best in the basket. We disagreed about the second best with J. going for the potato and me picking the plain. We did feel the garlic naan was the weakest of the four, but that didn’t mean it was exceptional. It just needed more garlic.
We had just enough naan to wipe up every last atom of sauce from our dishes. We were pleasantly full but wanted a little something to round out the meal, so when our waiter returned to clear some of the dishes, we requested an order of the Kheer ($3.00).
Within a couple of minutes, our Kheer arrived sporting two spoons. The rice pudding was ice cold, somewhat soupy and full of cardamom and a hint of cinnamon. The few sliced almonds on top gave our initial spoonfuls some crunch while the raisins gave it a chewy side. The pudding was slightly sweet and very creamy. It was the perfect selection for our dessert.
After requesting our bill, we were pleased to see that the total was only $57.51 which included tax. Considering the location, the atmosphere and the quality of the food, we found this to be a pretty good value. The service was very professional and friendly, so we had no complaints there.
As we wandered back to our car, I told J. that I thought Tandoori Times had some of the best Indian food in the Valley. J. agreed that it was top notch. We both agreed that whatever was going on in the kitchen at Tandoori Times, it boded well for the patrons. Everything we had was excellent with quality ingredients, substantial portions and decent prices. The spice level was also not dumbed down for American palates. It wasn’t over the top either, but right on target for a very spicy meal that was quite delicious.
I drove J. around old town Scottsdale, pointing out the various shops and restaurants before we got back to Indian School Road for the quick drive back to Arcadia.
Tandoori Times was a big winner for us and I would not hesitate returning again and again.
The only thing it wasn’t able to do, however, was take away the impending reality that J. would leaving the next morning.
6810 East 5th Avenue
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Dress: Casual on up.
Hours: Tuesday through Friday - 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM & 5 PM to 10 PM; Saturday and Sunday - 12 Noon to 10 PM.
Notes: A second location is open at 5626 West Bell Road in Glendale.
Alcohol: Beer and wine service is available.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com