Taste of India (St. Louis Park, MN)
Indian menus can be formidable, especially to Minnesotans timid about spicy food. The different dishes start to sound alike, and dire warnings about spiciness echo in our heads. But there's no reason to fear. Indian food can be flavorful and delicious, and much of it is traditionally not spicy.
Taste of India, in St. Louis Park, is an excellent place for an education in Indian food. Its menu gives hot-food haters a chance to try complex and interesting spices that won't burn the palate.
Skip the appetizers and head for the entrees. These are standards: northern Indian fare that can be found in Indian restaurants everywhere. We suggest any dish called korma; this is a creamy yogurt sauce spiced with coconut, cardamom, cinnamon and garlic. Our favorite is chicken shahi korma. This version is so lightly spiced, it's the perfect dish for suspicious skeptics.
Any of the masala dishes are just a bit further on the spice scale. Masala just means a combination of spices, so this dish can be based on chicken, shrimp, even cheese. For example, the boti ka masala is lamb cooked in a curry sauce with carrots, cauliflower and potatoes -- delicious.
A bit further towards hot food is the rogan josh -- it doesn't have as much sauce as a masala dish and has some chili peppers. The lamb version was wonderful, as was the fish. Hotter yet is a vindaloo. We've had vindaloos that were too hot to eat in other restaurants, but the shrimp version here wasn't overwhelming. We'll ask for it hotter next time.
Taste of India serves many vegetarian dishes. Bagan bharta is a particularly nice eggplant and potato dish, served in a tasty tomato-based sauce. And don't forget the biryani choices. These dishes are made with saffron-flavored rice and make a nice variation from the more saucy choices. Our favorites are the chicken or the lamb.
All dishes come with rice, and can be ordered mild, medium or hot. Ordering a normally hot dish as mild won't be authentic, but it'll still be tasty. Heat levels are toned down for Minnesota palates; if you want something authentically Indian hot, you have to make a special request and convince the waiter that you understand what you're requesting.
Don't forget to order nan, the baked flat bread that's perfect for sopping up the sauces that come with your entrees. You can order it plain, but we like garlic or onion nan. The deep-fried puri bread is also tasty.
The perfect drink with Indian food is a lassi, plain and a little salty (think buttermilk) or sweet with mango. It's a creamy yogurt drink that cools the palate. We also liked the hot spiced tea.
Taste of India has an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet seven days a week: $8 on weekdays and $10 on weekends. It's widely considered one of the better lunch choices in this part of town, with a selection of appetizers, main dishes and desserts. Sample everything.