Restaurant review: Tandoori Grill

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

When my head jerked involuntarily after slurping a spicy, chunky and altogether explosive tomato sauce-powered dish recently, I thought I could feel dopamine squirting around my brain. That unexpected pleasure-center event occurred at Tandoori Grill - a month-old strip mall attention-getter whose potent and nuanced fare can reignite the thrill of eating Indian food for jaded veterans of it.

This is not to suggest that Tandoori Grill is a perfect restaurant. For starters, that knockout tomato curry was glistening with wanton amounts of clarified butter (ghee), service is an overall work in progress, and the hard-to-digest and confusing menu is rife with ostensible redundancies. But for a blast of distinguished Indian cooking enjoyed in a colorful and modern setting, this inexpensive newbie is a must-visit.

That T-Grill is a less-than-smooth operator (Do I seat myself? Where's my waiter? How can you be out of ice? Why are these saucy entrees not served with rice, bread or anything else?) might be attributable to its relative newness or the fact that it's an extension of next-door Apna Bazaar, one of those overachieving eatery-within-a-bare-bones-ethnic-grocery-store deals.

Certainly the bright and lively interior is not among Tandoori Grill's minor deficiencies. With curvy track lighting, a sorta kaleidoscopic wall decoration and Kusama-esque polka-dot-patterned slats nestled between heavy rustic wooden columns, it's got character to burn.

Speaking of burning, since there's no beer here, get one of Tandoori Grill's superior mango lassis ($3) to help douse out any oral fires - then get to chomping. Starter-wise, a highly uncommon Bun Kabob ($4, a spicy and aromatic beef/lentil/veggie burger that in fine street food fashion arrived on a throwaway roll and wrapped in foil), though dry and crumbly, provided a lotta flavor and fun. While on the oily side, the samosas (2 for $3.50) were solid, with the comforting curried potato version outpacing the funky ground chicken one.

OK, now on to those limbic system-tickling tomato curry dishes. They were among Tandoori Grill's karahi-style preparations (karahis are wok-like pots), and both the Fish Karahi ($10, with ginger sticks and "fish spices") and the Tandoori Kabob Karahi ( $10) made for dynamite dinners. Based on roughly pureed tomatoes, they starred almost Italian pasta-like sauces shot through with an arsenal of Indian seasonings. If the zesty chicken iteration (chopped ground meat seekh kabobs made with onion, cilantro and chilies) was a better match for the in-your-face sauce than the extremely mild-tasting, super-tender, lightly floured and pan-fried fish (called "basa whitefish"), the latter was leaner. Honestly though, even shoestrings would taste great in that addictive sauce.

Another out-of-the-ordinary entree is the Haleem Chicken ($13). Served in a large kidney-shaped bowl, it's a thick, volatile and intense shredded-chicken-fortified daal-like lentil, wheat and barley stew with a dense texture and rusty brown tint. I loved it - even if it was short a few of its lightening garnishes (present: cilantro and lemon; absent: fried onions, ginger and chilies) and, oddly, was served completely alone.

For a smorgasbord of sorts, the Family Platter ($20) is the way to go (the menu says it serves four, but two determined eaters can demolish it). Along with a micro-salad, basmati rice (fragrant with toasted cumin seeds but a tad tired) plus puffy and toasty good naan were juicy and sausage-y kabob flavor bombs; spicy and blistered terrific tandoori chicken quarters; and lovely and lemony chicken kabobs.

Photos by Tessa Berg

Tandoori Grill

808 Bethel Rd., North Side