Punjabi Tandoor Opens In Anaheim

For a time, you could get refugiados (guava-cheese rolls) and outstanding café con leche in Anaheim at Café Contigo, the only Cuban coffeeshop in the county. Times were hard and signage was difficult, though, and the café fell victim to the economy and closed.

Recently, however, the sign changed to advertise an Indian restaurant called Punjabi Tandoor; this opened for business last weekend and is a counter-service takeaway featuring, naturally, Punjabi food.

The restaurant, the sibling of the extremely well-regarded Punjabi Tandoor near MCAS Miramar north of San Diego, looks almost exactly like Café Contigo: same furniture, same paint, same (though fewer) decorations.

I stopped in tonight to try it, concentrating on the vegetables, since they are what I love best about Indian food, and I was really pleasantly surprised. As we ordered, one of the cooks brought over a complimentary plate of freshly-fried vegetable pakora. These were, frankly, amazing; potatoes, peas, carrots and peppers mixed into a tangy batter and fried, accompanied with a sweet- and sour-spiced red chutney and a truly powerful cilantro chutney.

Chana masala was sublime: the chickpeas still had snap to them, and were almost dry-cooked in a masala sauce that packed a slow but meaningful chile heat. Navratan korma, mixed vegetables in coconut-cream sauce, was rich and well-spiced, but with a very heavy hand on the cream; this had to be eaten with a spoon.

Bhindi masala was okra treated the same way as the chickpeas, but with the okra oven-roasted first. Most of this was sweet and excellent; a couple of burned pieces, however, lent a slight bitter cast to it. Palak paneer, the standby dish of fresh cheese in spinach, was so light in texture it almost seemed like a soufflé. The paneer, which is made in-house (as it is in all serious Indian eateries), was especially tangy and the star of the dish; as with the korma, however, a lighter hand with the cream might fare better

Though the meals came with naan (brushed with ghee, which was rich but would have been just as good without), we ordered a gobi paratha, a whole-wheat flatbread with cauliflower. The paratha itself was outstanding, with both the required whole wheat flavor but also a good, glutinous texture; I just wish the cauliflower filling had been a little bit more assertive.

Given the option of raita or kheer with dinner, we opted for kheer, which came in small cups; this was outstanding and certainly in the top five kheers I have ever had. This is no small compliment: having grown up in a heavily Indian-American community in New Jersey, I have had more than my share of kheer, cooked by loving Gujarati mothers; it was a staple of “share your culture” day and a popular after-school study snack.

Service is extremely friendly and very helpful. I look forward to returning and working my way down the new-additions list on the white board: egg biryani and various treatments of that excellent paneer are locked in my sights. If this is what Punjabi Tandoor can do after just four days open, I hope to see more dishes that break away from the same-old same-old of northern Indian food in this country; these folks can clearly cook.

Prices are very good value: a huge plate of rice, two dishes (two
vegetables, two meat or one of each), naan and either raita or kheer,
for $8.49; one vegetable and dal makhani (lentils) for $6.99. Lunch
specials are even better value, and nothing on the menu is over $10.

Punjabi Tandoor, 327-A S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim; (714) 635-3155; http://www.punjabitandoor.com

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