Tadka Indian Cuisine
Food Three Stars
Service Three-and-a-half stars
Ambience Three stars
Address: 5290 Arapahoe Ave., Suite B, Boulder
Contact: 303-444-1626, tadkaboulder.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 4:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Fare: Traditional Indian cuisine, with a number of gluten-free options and a respectable selection of vegan choices.
Noise Level: Low, and the mellow ambient music soundtrack made for a more relaxing, if not contemplative, dining experience than usual.
Tadka Indian Cuisine occupies a modest South Boulder strip mall space that's been home to a handful of Indian eateries over the years. Tadka also refers to an Indian cooking technique where spices are heated in ghee, or an appropriate oil, so as to release the essential oils inherent in the seasonings. The happy result, assuming one doesn't burn the spices, is a deeper, richer taste profile.
On a recent Sunday dinner visit, the crowds at Tadka were moderate, and the vibe pleasantly low key. I was struck by the comfortable, but unpretentious ambience, accented by mellow Indian music playing softly. Service was uniformly pleasant, with a mom-and-pop shop feel and a warm sense of welcome underscoring each interaction.
The menu here is comprehensive, with some nine starter choices. One can also pick from a half-dozen tandoori main courses for the carnivore, and a baker's dozen of vegetarian entrees, many of which are vegan and/or gluten-free. There's also a dozen additional meat and fish main entrees, including such classics as butter chicken, lamb vindaloo and salmon makhni. Spicing here is rated on a scale of one to five, with five being the most fiery. We opted for an intermediate level of heat with our selections.
We kicked off the meal with two starters, one being one of my favorite Indo-Chinese fusion dishes, the $7 vegan Kauli Manchurian. As suggested by its name, this preparation consists of tender cauliflower florets deep fried with a slightly heavier-than-usual breading. Appealing garnishes included sliced scallions and sesame seeds. The batter's thickness didn't hinder our enjoyment of this appetizer, as the salty soy, tomato and garlic sauce made for a meatless dish resembling a favorite guilty pleasure, sesame chicken.
Street-food classic, a $6 samosa chaat, was both eye-catching, thanks to a vibrant mix of colors, as well as stimulating to the taste buds. Consisting of crumbled, or perhaps as the more pretentious would say, deconstructed, samosas, this storied snack was built upon a foundation of textured chickpeas and crunchy bits of pastry. The intermediate heat level nicely matched a mix of cooling and tangy yogurt, sharp cilantro and fruity chutney with just the right hint of sweetness.
I'm a sucker for both naan and garlic, so it was inevitable that I would order a $3 portion of garlic naan. Tadka's take was compelling, albeit a touch thicker than usual, but possessing appealing texture. There was no escaping the luxurious ghee flavor, and happily this flat bread wasn't nearly as greasy as other versions. Pungent garlic flavor was definitely noticeable, but not to the point of being overwhelming.
Entrees were generously sized, and the $19 tadka mixed grill was a showcase for this eatery's tandoori offerings. Accompanied by a side of aromatic rice and a choice of vegetable, in this case, delicately sautéed spinach combined with hearty potato, this was a serious main course.
Happily eschewing the use of red dye, Tadka's classic chicken preparation was tender, and brightly accented by the tones of its tangy yogurt, garlic and ginger marinade. Unlike many tandoori takes, it was also marvelously moist.
Plump shrimp, cooked to a firm, but not overdone, consistency, were a surprisingly fine match-up to the lively flavors. The weak link of the dish was the chunks of lamb, which was over-seasoned and on the chewy side.
However, the texture of the lamb was much improved in a $15 biryani featuring that meat in a somewhat salty, but intriguingly flavored, rice dish. In this case, the meat was terrifically tender, and the earthy flavors anchored the course while complementing the warming spices that made for well-rounded flavor.
One suspects that the tadka technique was at play here, as the seasonings were cleaner and more distinct than one would have expected. Additionally, a drizzle of a cooling yogurt-based raita sauce took the salt edge off. By the time I had polished off this course, I realized that flavor had quickly become more balanced over time.
Overall, the quality of preparation at Tadka is admirable. The only room for improvement would be a more judicious hand with the salt, and in the case of the tandoori lamb, a shortened cooking time. But those points are mitigated by the relaxing ambience and warmly hospitable service.