Thursday, July 22, 2010
Name: Taj Restaurant
Location: 59 Main St., Binghamton, NY 13905
Phone: (607) 723-6454
Price: About $10 per person
Taj is located on Main St. on Binghamton's West Side, near Binghamton High School and not far from downtown. It represents the third and final installment in my tour of local Indian restaurants. The first I reviewed, Moghul, I found to have great ambiance and very good food, but regretted that they decided to stop their lunch buffet. My second Indian stop was at Curry's of India, which had virtually no ambiance but good food, and I thought their $6 lunch buffet represented great value. I thought the food at Curry's could benefit from more spice. I have been curious about Taj for awhile now, having read some very good things about it and I had heard they, like Curry's, had a lunch buffet that was pretty good. Today, I went to check it out.
I arrived at Taj and found it to have a somewhat rundown, mildly dirty atmosphere. Not exactly the most appetizing of places to eat, but as always, I come for the food first and foremost. After all, Curry's didn't exactly wow me with ambiance or pristine cleanliness, but I liked it well enough. What bugged me is that despite signage declaring that the "buffet (is) served every day," the buffet was not going on at this time. So that was a bummer. In lieu of the buffet I decided to do take out and began a thorough scan of the menu. And what a weird menu it is, with American cuisine like burgers and Greek favorites like gyros tossed in amongst the usual curry dishes that comprise the bulk of the menu.
At any rate, I think the owner mistook my perusal of the menu for being a novice to Indian cuisine and he was quick on the trigger to offer a suggestion. He recommended that I try the Chicken Biryani, and promised that I would love it. Sounded good to me, so I decided to give it a shot. A short 10-minute wait later, and my order was ready. The owner gave me three different sauces to try with the biryani: a yogurt sauce similar to tzatziki, a mildly spicy tomato-based sauce, and a spicy chili paste. He recommended I try the various sauces with the Biryani, in that order. I found his customer service to be good-natured and efficient, if perhaps a bit unintentionally patronizing. Before leaving I asked when the buffet would be going on again, and he replied that once the Binghamton University fall semester starts up, they'll probably start it up. So much for "every day."
$10 later, I headed home to give this Indian meal a try. As it turned out, I really did not care for it. The chicken in the dish was mostly fat and bones, with very few bites yielding any actual meat. What was there was not particularly tasty. That leaves the rice, which looked and tasted like it had been sitting around awhile. It had some good seasoning to it: I could pick out the flavors of cardamom, coriander, mint, and caraway. But it was all stuck together and dried out. The sauces were just OK. The yogurt sauce was very similar to Greek tzatziki (it very well may have been). The tomato sauce was my favorite of the three, and I ended up dumping it on the rice to give it some extra flavor. It had the subtle spiciness that I have grown to associate with Indian cuisine. The chili paste was OK, I guess, but I didn't think it was a very good match for the dish I ordered. To each his own, I reckon.
I do not recommend a trip to Taj. The restaurant has little atmosphere and borders on filthy. I did not care for the food, nor its preparation, a shame especially given that I have enjoyed practically every Indian meal I've ever had before this one. I also didn't think that it really represented good value, and I didn't appreciate the false advertising of a buffet when they did not offer one. I did think the customer service was good, but even that rubbed me the wrong way a little bit. Head the extra quarter mile over the bridge into downtown and hit up Curry's of India if you're looking for inexpensive Indian food, or if you have a few extra dollars head out the Vestal Parkway and try Moghul, home to one of the area's best restaurant atmospheres. It's perfectly possible that I caught Taj on a bad day, but I wouldn't expect a future visit to yield anything much better.