Taste of India in Iowa

I decided to take the plunge this week and head to an Indian restaurant in Cedar Rapids. One of my first experiences with Indian cuisine was in Chicago at Veerasway followed quickly by Cumin in Wicker Park, so I was spoiled from the start. But damn you, Cedar Rapids, you continue to surprise me.
We pulled up to the strip mall where Taste of India recently relocated. Why every damn ethnic restaurant in has to be located in a strip mall in this town is beyond me. Another topic, another day.
Immediately upon opening the door we were greeted by nice decor… that was then quickly replaced with “wait, why is it so quiet?” A lively indian radio station perhaps? A cd set to repeat on overhead speakers that will play a cliche mix of indian music during my meal? But we were not so lucky with either. My hesitations grew when we realized we were #7 & #8 for the lunch time crowd. Like walking into a secret meeting of the Sopranos in the back of a butcher shop, I considered slowly back pedaling out of the place. In a moment, our soon-to-be-waiter greeted us to seat us, take our order, and serve us for the rest of the meal.
We decided to start out our lunch with a Mango lassi and samosas before diving into the rest of the menu, although we didn’t have too far to dive. While perusing the menu we noticed our options for Tuesday were limited to the day of the week so while there was a good selection, it was not overwhelming.
My mango lassi arrived quickly and in a beautiful tall high-ball glass that was only missing an umbrella. I was surprised upon first sip that it was legitimately yogurt and mangoes, straight up. Assuming there would be something synthetic, icey or contrived about the drink, I reset my expectations that I had not given this place enough credit. But it was delicious… so I turned my attention to the samosas that had just arrived piping hot at our table. …. In layman’s terms, you could describe these hot, little nuggets as seasoned mashed potatoes in a crispy wrapper with a sweet, tamarind sauce. Delicious, TOI 2: LK 0.
Our entree selection arrived quickly after apps in a bento- box style tray. Despite the similarity in hue and consistency, all four dishes were different, and I easily compiled a list of favorite to least favorite. One, the chicken curry. It was the first and last one I tasted. The curry was full of flavor, but not too strong and left a surprising heat right before you swallowed. Second, the shahi paneer was close to the curry in sweetness and consistency without the burn or fragrance but all the right flavors. I secretly missed spinach, or peas, but the cheese was soft and it was nudging at the curry for first place. Next, I moved onto the Dal Makhani. Usually the offering of “lentils” does nothing to entice me to order them on a menu, especially when listed with… well, anything else, but as numero tres on my Top 4 List, these were surprisingly good. Cooked with freshly ground spices, butter, onions, garlic and tomatoes, they were mild enough in flavor and texture to enjoy all of them. Like Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, you know it’s not the best mac & cheese you could eat, but it’s a good stand-by and you rarely leave enough for leftovers.
Lastly, I moved onto the Butter Chicken. Then I quickly moved back to the other three dishes. While there was nothing wrong with this dish, there was nothing that made me want to go back for a second bite. I would recommend this dish to anyone who wants something basic, good, and all the words I could use while I walk the middle-road line. But I don’t like safe or “good”. There is only so much room in my belly, and I want it to be filled to the brim with greatness.
As we said good-bye to our very accommodating waiter, passed the sharp entryway decor and got in the car (not smelling like curry aka ridiculous Indian-restaurant-dining cliche), I decided I would come back for the buffet, or a nanwich, or the other 30 options I didn’t try, because while I don’t want just “good”, Taste of India has shown a glimmer of hope that they have more greatness on their menu.


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