The chicken tandoori waltz

By Amber Williams

It so often seems when dining out that the appetizer, as delicious and thrilling as it might have been, is gone too soon. Rarely does anyone complain about having spoiled his or her appetite on the starter dish. So when the waiter emerges from that swinging kitchen door with platters of hot plates lining his outstretched arms, it’s a conversation-stopper. The word “giddy” comes to mind.

Tandoori Chicken is served at India Star Restaurant.

Tandoori Chicken is served at India Star Restaurant.

Finally, the feast has arrived. When it comes to authentic Asian cuisine, dining is more like a dance than it is a re-fueling. It’s a ritualistic, almost ordinal, experience that few burger-chewing, steak-cutting, cheese-noshing, red-blooded Americans can claim to have had. That’s not to say a fine dining experience can’t include meat and dairy, because India’s popular chicken tandoori certainly does.

Anytime the word “tandoori” appears on the menu, it basically means it was cooked in a clay oven. Roasted to a caramelized red glaze, tandoori chicken give the diner permission to pick it up and eat it like the primates we are. It’s cut so it’s easily recognizable, which makes the taste of the otherwise ordinary meat all the more Indian authentic — incomparable to the American grilled, barbecued or fried standard. It tastes… well, better for you.

Adding to the dance are the chicken’s little enhancers on the side, one green and one red, like Christmas came early. The surprising part, though, is the distinct difference in trying one dipping sauce compared to the other. A green oxymoronic mint somehow manages to fuel the heat of the spicy chicken and cool it simultaneously. So, just when you think you made a huge mistake in choosing to put it in your mouth, a physical relief washes over the senses.

The red is a sweet-and-sour that offers the obvious effect. Both individually make it impossible to decide which one is the better complement to the tandoori chicken. A spritz of lemon over the meat offers a third puzzle piece, so the decision is a trifecta of sensory overload. Why choose one when you can take turns with them all? Like a dance. RELISH

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