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Taj Indian & Nepali Cuisine

Taj is a second act for the former owners of Santa Rosa’s Sizzling Tandoor. Looking for a new project after selling their popular Indian restaurant three years ago, the family recently opened a Windsor outpost featuring cuisine from their homeland.

At first blush, not much is wildly innovative about the menu or the atmosphere of the restaurant. Tucked between cigarette discount shops, framers and dental offices Taj’s vinyl “All You Can Eat Buffet” sign seems to sum up the vibe pretty well.

But on Windsor’s practical east side, it works. The busy office lunch rush heads for the buffet ($8.99), served from 11:30am to 2pm and again from 5pm to 9pm. With only a few steaming copper pots, it’s a short trip, but a tasty one, featuring an aromatic mulligatawny soup, black lentils, curried chickpeas, lamb meatballs, vegetable pakoras (fried bits of vegetables), tandoori chicken, salad and fresh naan bread served at the table.

Now, BiteClubbers know well my distaste for all things mushy and flavorless, but the mix of spices and herbs in each of the dishes (even the vegetarian ones) had enough complexity to keep things interesting. Having done my time at Indian buffets, what’s even more surprising was finding moist tandoori and pakoras crisp with life.

If you’ve got a little more time, check out the extraordinarily creamy (if slightly salty) Tikka Masala. The restaurant also has a long list of vegetarian dishes, including okra masala, roasted eggplant and saag paneer. Lamb, fish and chicken are featured in tandoors, as well as various curries and spicy sauces–from Vindaloo to Pasanda (a yogurt-based sauce).

What makes or breaks an Indian restaurant, in my book, are the chutneys. There have to be at least three: Mint and cilantro, tamarind and yogurt. Taj takes it a step further with a saffron-colored spicy chickpea and lentil chutney that kicks up the heat just a notch, as well as mango chutney that’s indispensable if you’re eating curry.

Indian desserts typically scare the pants off me, usually being a combination of mushy, flavorless and sickeningly sweet. Getting talked into the Galub Jamun ($3.95) “–cold, fried fritter balls soaked in syrup–wasn’t quite as bad as I feared. The sauce was pleasantly perfumed, tasting more like jasmine than sugar. It’s still a stretch for American palates. Sticking with a nice mango lassi, seems like a better plan if you’re jonesing for the sweet stuff.

Overall, a solid neighborhood spot that’s got the experience and kitchen know-how you’d expect from a veteran restaurateur.

Taj Indian, 9076 Brooks Road South (near Safeway), Windsor, 707.837.9568.

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