I was sworn in as a citizen of the US yesterday/today, along with another 999 people—all of us together representing 96 nationalities before the start of the ceremony. Many of my fellow new citizens doubtless come from countries that allow dual citizenship but India does not. India offers a status called “Overseas Citizen of India” but it is not full citizenship and does not come with a passport. Yesterday/today, therefore, was my last day with a valid Indian passport. Despite being someone who is not very persuaded by the claims of nationalism—culture is a different thing and is not tied to citizenship—I found myself somewhat melancholy about this prospect in the days leading up and after my naturalization interview. I’m never going to stop being Indian; despite having lived here for 26 years I’m not able to flip a switch and think of myself as American; but Indian-American I am now for sure. It’ll take a while to sort all this out in my head but to start with I decided to mark this stage in my translation with a lunch buffet at an Indian restaurant and to eat some of the dishes that Americans so love to eat in Indian restaurants. The only question was which one.
The naturalization ceremony took place in St. Paul but got done well before lunch. (The ceremony, by the way, had no Donald Trump content—Governor Tim Walz and Judge William Fisher spoke movingly about the centrality of immigrant experience and identity to the idea of America and urged everyone present to remember that to swear allegiance to the USA does not mean leaving our languages, cultures, foods and so forth behind.) I had some errands to run in Minneapolis after but couldn’t find a promising Indian restaurant near where I had to be. And then I remembered that on the Bloomington Facebook page where I’d been reminded of the existence of Hyderabad Indian Grill—a meal I’d quite liked—there had also been a recommendation for a place called Tandoor. As it was right on my way home, I decided to give it a go.
In fact, Tandoor turned out to be just a hop, skip and jump from Hyderabad Indian Grill, in the large strip mall off the corner of Penn and American. I’m not sure how long it has been open—though I would guess it’s pretty well established—but their menu seems largely untouched by the transformations in the Indian food scene in the last decade in the US more broadly and even in the Twin Cities metro. Unlike Hyderabad Indian Grill or Persis, or the Bay Leaf or Bawarchi, their menu seems almost entirely untouched by South Indian flavours (see the online menu here). What’s on offer is almost enitirely Ye Olde Curry House Cliches. And so it was at the lunch buffet as well. The spread was not very large—much smaller than Hyderabad Indian Grill’s—and had nothing on it that you would not have seen in an Indian restaurant in the US when I first arrived in 1993. So, maybe appropriate for the occasion?
The restaurant itself is attractive enough. It’s not very large but the decor is decidedly unkitschy with a mix of folk and more modern art. There are two dining areas—the one by the windows is bright during the day; the other—closer to the buffet—is much darker; this is where I was seated. They were not full at 12.45 but were quite busy with a steady turnover of tables. The atmosphere is pleasant. The food, alas, is nothing to get very excited about. Perhaps it’s better at dinner or if you order a la carte but this buffet was as anonymous as it was familiar. Cream was everywhere, as was sugar. The biryani was dry, the naans flabby; the peas in the cream and nut paste-laden matar paneer were hard; the yogurt in the raita had not been beaten properly. There were only two things I liked at all: the tandoori chicken—which had not been doused in food colouring and which was nicely tender—and the chana masala. And I guess the gajar halwa was decent too—though not as good as the one I’d eaten at Surabhi in the summer.
To take a look at the space and the food launch the slideshow below. Scroll down to see how much it all cost and for my take on it overall.
Service was fine. Plates were cleared and my water was refilled and the servers were pleasant. How much did it cost? $12.85 before tip, or exactly the same as Hyderabad Indian Grill. However, even if it were much cheaper I do not think there is any reason whatsoever to eat here over Hyderabad Indian Grill, which is located just steps from them and whose food—at least on the basis of the meal each I’ve had at both places—is both more varied and much better done. Keep in mind though that I am only referring to the lunch buffets—I’ve no idea what either place is like a la carte. There’s nothing wrong with being an old-school place per se but at least on the basis of this meal it appears that Tandoor’s food is aiming to be as unchallenging as possible. As such, I cannot recommend it to anyone looking for anything beyond creamy and bland chicken tikka masala.
All in all, perhaps not the most auspicious meal with which to inaugurate my new Indian-American identity. So it goes. But it’s not going to keep me from exploring the local Indian food scene. I might move that exploration a bit further west though, to Edina and Minnetonka where I think there is a large population of recent Indian immigrants. Not sure when I’ll report on any of that—maybe in November? My next restaurant report will be Indian though, but from New York. Later this week, probably.