At Tandoori's, A Loss of Indian Class is Felt Deeply

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Tandoori's Royal Indian Cuisine
7740 Transit Rd., Williamsville, NY 14221
Web: Tandoori's Royal Indian Cuisine
Phone: 716.632.1112
Rating:    [learn more]
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"Our most recent dining experience began with a hammy, indiscreet maitre d' who acted like he was straight out of golf caddy school, and abruptly ended before dessert."

We fondly remember Tandoori's as a true standout in the Buffalo restaurant scene - an Indian restaurant with an ambitiously pricey menu and food quality to match. The Pappadum cracker-thin bread, Basmati rice, and soft, warm pieces of Naan bread were only fillers for a classy, truly authentic Indian meal, filled with bright-red, oven-roasted Tandoori Chicken, bowls of savory sauce-soaked meats, and memorable desserts. Unfortunately, things change, and Tandoori's glory days seem to have passed; our most recent dining experience began with a hammy, indiscreet maitre d' who acted like he was straight out of golf caddy school, then continued through expensive, underwhelming courses, and abruptly ended before dessert. Our strong impression was that Tandoori's today has only some of its past culinary appeal, and little of its prior class. Read on for the details.

The Story: Originally, Tandoori's was known for its location in Buffalo proper, a traditionally decorated, dimly-lit locale that all but demanded respect on its own. At a time when the area had few good Indian choices - a situation that has, for different reasons, repeated itself today - it was a place where one could go for the real thing, at a price, and leave feeling impressed. Today, Tandoori's is strictly suburban, stuffed into a Transit and Sheridan road building that once housed the brilliant Scott's Fine Dining, and it looks as if the interior of the main dining area has barely been updated since Scott's left years ago. From the cluttered entryway to the entry, where we were met by a frat boy-like maitre d', to a dining room with 1980's lighting and a mish-mash of wall decor items, the experience didn't feel so much like visiting a high-class restaurant as it did a place that was trying despite its repurposed surroundings to be one.

The menu, however, remains both robust and expensive. In addition to the appetizers ($4-8) and meal accompanying bread (typically $3.50-$4.00 per basket), most chicken entrees are in the $13-14 range, with lamb in the $15 range, seafood generally at $16 and up, and specialties around $19 each. While the prices aren't crazy on their face, the portion sizes change the equation, as you're typically getting half the food of say, a Chinese entree, at twice the price, and Tandoori's dishes tend to be heavy on sauce and light on meat. In other words, unless you're looking to leave the place feeling as thin as Gandhi, you'll either need to order an extra entree or plan to get extra bread as a filler.

Highs: Though it's deficient in quantity, Tandoori's food generally ranges from passable to very good - not excellent - in quality. As boring as it may sound, the highlight of our meal was Garlic Naan - a traditional Indian pita-like bread, served warm with visible slices of fresh garlic on its sides. We found the garlic flavor to be strong and delicious, rather than muted as it sometimes is elsewhere. One of our entrees, a Chicken Tikka Masala ($13.50, also known as Murg Tikkamasala), had a rich spiced yogurt sauce that was unusually creamy and fresh-tasting, though again, the dish had relatively little meat; we felt as if we were done with it almost as soon as we had started.

Lows: In an effort to sample as many items as possible, we tried several entrees and a major appetizer - the Tandoori Platter ($11) - a hot plate covered in onions and topped with samples from four different lamb and chicken dishes. The Seekh Kabab, skewer-roasted minced lamb, was inferior to the version at nearby competitor Kabab & Curry, while the ground chicken version Reshmi Kabab and was bland; similarly, the cubed chicken Murg Tikka and cubed lamb Boti Peshawari were forgettable, and none were exactly generous in portion size. We found ourselves picking charred onion bits off the plate in an attempt to sate our growling stomachs. Without going into similar detail about the other entrees, we ultimately felt hungry even after ordering generously - a fact that ironically discouraged us from ordering dessert.

We will note that we had come to Tandoori's anxious to have one of its desserts; years ago, we were very impressed by its presentation of Gulab Jamun ($4), sweet, hot, dough-like brown balls that the restaurant memorably topped with flecks of edible silver leaf. After the general disappointment we felt with the rest of our meal, we didn't feel right about adding another item to the bill, and passed on dessert. Some memories are best left untainted.

Food aside, we were not impressed by the service: Tandoori's wait staff seemed to alternate between awkward and subservient, hovering at times when the owner came out to watch. Surprisingly, quite a bit of our meal was spent listening to the maitre d' carrying on a conversation at a nearby table, and though a coterie of waiters came out to present and clear dishes, there always seemed to be something off about the service. At the end of a meal, Tandoori's offers every female patron an after-dinner rose, a nice gesture that is supposed to cap the night with a little touch of class; for us, it felt a little like an uncomfortable high school prom corsage moment.

The Verdict: While we would enthusiastically support greater competition in the area's Indian dining scene - we recall having two or three very good choices some years ago - there's no doubt in our minds that the nearby restaurant Kabab & Curry delivers a substantially better experience for the dollar. Though we went into Tandoori's with reasonable expectations and the knowledge that the meal could be expensive, we didn't feel as if the food or service justified the high prices; white tablecloths alone do not make a dinner fancy or memorable. Had we been alone in this impression, we might have returned to give it another shot, but our experience was subsequently confirmed by friends and family: Tandoori's definitely needs to make some changes to reclaim its former glory.

Updated July 15, 2008: We mightn't have been impressed with Tandoori's as a restaurant, but we were glad to see the place put on a legitimate show at the 2008 Taste of Buffalo, where the booth (shown here) at times played pre-recorded but enjoyable Bhangra music, accompanied by a live drummer. Congratulations to Tandoori's on its "best decorated booth" award, and its award for vegetarian food.

Tandoori at Transit on Urbanspoon

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