From the moment one enters the spacious restaurant on Dizengoff Circle, one is enveloped by the smells and sounds of India. The interior décor is characterized by handsome leather and wood furnishings, and colorful parasols hanging from the ceiling, while the outdoor al fresco seating area overlooks the plaza’s iconic fountain.
There are no specialty cocktails, but the limited bar will mix the classics. The wine list itemizes three red and three whites, including one of each designated as the house wines, all available by the glass. Among the beers listed is Kingfisher, imported from India.
The food menu was recently streamlined, but its eight pages still enumerate an impressive 79 items, not including desserts. As we perused the menu, a coarsely chopped salad and crispy papadams were brought to the table.
We also ordered salty lassi -- a yogurt drink that is not available in many places, even in local Indian restaurants -- so it was an authentic and refreshing change of pace. A sweeter mango version is also available.
The menu sections are Appetizers (vegetarian and non-vegetarian), Salads, Soups, Tandoori clay oven specialties, Regional curries, Vegan, Vegetarian with paneer, Breads, and Biryanis (rice dishes). Most categories contain gluten-free options.
We began with the mixed non-vegetarian platter for two -- samplings of six varieties of appetizers, including some vegetarian ones (sweet potato, for example).
Although everything was fried, nothing was oily; the mutton samosa and fish pakoda were especially noteworthy.
The chicken wings, dredged in chickpea flour, are also available as an appetizer on their own.
It was great fun dipping the pakoras, samosas and pakoda in the distinctive condiments: a tomato sauce that is akin to an Indian ketchup, mango pickle, mint pesto, and tamarind.
Raita -- yogurt with cucumber -- is not among the complimentary array, but Tandoori’s hearty version (listed under Salads) is a recommended extra.
As main courses, we ordered the Fish Tikka and Tandoori Lamb Chops, both cooked over charcoal in clay ovens and brought to our table on sizzling platters leaving trails of smoke. The slightly fatty lamb chops arrived with charred edges, but the meat was juicy and flavorful, and redolent with Indian seasonings.
The similarly generous portion of fish tikka meanwhile, while less moist, was nonetheless enjoyed by my companion.
Instead of the traditional accompaniment of rice, we ordered the Palak Paneer --- creamy spinach served on a flame at the table to keep it warm.
Large cubes of delicate fresh white cheese were concealed within the pungent dark green vegetable, adding up to a delicious combination.
There are five desserts -- Western and Indian -- on a separate menu. Interestingly, although the restaurant is clearly not kosher, two of the desserts are listed as pareve, for those who do not want any dairy during a meal at which they ate meat.
Not surprisingly, therefore, there is neither pork nor seafood on the extensive menu.
Happily, we were most intrigued by the two least familiar desserts: Gulab Jamun, golden spheres of cheese-filled dumplings swimming in an exceedingly sweet, cardamom-laced syrup, and Zafrani Kulfi, unforgettably rich pistachio ice cream made from condensed milk and exotic spices.
Zamenhof St. 2, Tel Aviv
Tel. (03) 629-6185