WHO IS IN CHARGE The new Taj India, which opened in Nashua in February, is owned and operated by Rakesh Kumar, who has another New Hampshire restaurant in Manchester. He specializes in northern India food, which has a lot of similarities to that of Afghanistan and Pakistan, with breads like naan and kulcha and grilled (tandoori) chicken and lamb.
We know this because we brought along a native of Delhi who's an awesome cook in her own right.
THE ATMOSPHERE Visiting Taj India really feels like a special outing, with its white linen tablecloths, marigold-and-red walls, sparkling chandeliers, and Indian art work.
ON THE MENU There are two ways to try out Taj India. You can order off the menu or visit the lunch buffet where, for $10 Tuesday through Sunday, you can get a really good sampling of traditional offerings from salads to entrees, masala tea, and even dessert. For a newcomer to northern India cuisine, the labels on the dishes serve as a great primer for the full menu. For those who know it, the menu offers a big variety, of tandoori, vegetarian, curries, chicken, fish, and lamb.
Taj India has an excellent tandoori selection and the best way to sample it all is the mixed grill ($16), which includes chicken tandoori, lamb kabab, chicken tikka masala, and seekh kabab served on a sizzling, hot platter.
On our dinner visit, we went for our favorites, including chicken tikka masala ($13), lamb curry ($16), lamb masala ($16), and seekh kebab ($15), all excellent.
We also tried the lamb karahi ($16), tender pieces of lamb sautéed with Indian spices, bell pepper, and onions in a karahi (a small wok). You can order all the dishes with your choice of spiciness. We ordered it hot, and it was as spicy as those of us who love the heat wanted it to be. Those who ordered medium or mild also were happy.
We also were impressed by the shrimp tandoori masala ($16), billed on the menu as "the favorite dish of Emperor Shah Jahan, creator of the Taj Mahal." We can understand why. The charbroiled shrimp are sautéed with fresh herbs and served in a tomato and cream sauce. The dish had layers of flavor and spice to complement the tender prawns and was perfect over the cumin-scented basmati rice.
The vegetarian among us said her vegetable biryani ($14) and saag paneer ($9) — with its steamed spinach and creamy, spiced cheese sauce — were among the best she's ever sampled.
No discussion of a northern Indian restaurant would be complete without a discussion of flatbreads. Our favorites were the garlic naan — made on the tandoor and flavored with fresh herbs and aromatics — and the onion kulcha ($4). We were, however, a bit disappointed that the raita — the yogurt, cucumber sauce served to cool down the hot dishes — was not presented on the buffet and was an a la carte item ($3) when it should be plunked down on the table along with the chutney tray at the beginning of service.
At the end of your meal, do try the masala tea ($2) at Taj India. The cardamom-scented, creamy beverage is to-notch here.
Our friend from Delhi summed it up. "Though the food might not be as good as the northern Indian food I can cook at home, it's the best I've had in the Nashua area and serves as a great introduction to people who have never had Indian food before."
Taj India, 47 East Pearl St. Nashua. 603-864-8450, www.tajindia.co .