Hours: Lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner seven days, 6-10 p.m. Prices: A la carte entrees, $6.75-10.75. Cards: American Express, Diner's Club, MasterCard, Visa.
This venerable second-story Scheherezade has been overshadowed in recent years by the increasingly sophisticated and specific "Indian" (Pakistani, Nepalese, vegetarian, tandoori) restaurants in town, and its cuisine had thinned out along with the crowds.
But under new management, the Taj Mahal is hoping to curry favor again with a willing, if still gawky, kitchen and crew.
Some like it hot, and there are moments when the kitchen aspires to incendiary heights. But the cook is cautious -- most curries are mild -- and occasionally assumes you don't know what you're in for. So if spice is your vice, be sure to say so.
Start with the samosas, one of the kitchen's best offerings -- triangular Indian empanadas filled with spicy meat (or vegetables) and deep-fried two to an order. They are served with a dipping sauce of minced coriander and yogurt, deceptively cool but with a lemony afterbite of its own.
Shrimp or vegetable pakora is dipped in a barely sour frying batter that tastes of lentils; chicken tika is a miniature kebab.
One soup is almost bland, a thick chicken broth; the vegetable soup, thick as a stew, is tomato-pungent and quite spicy.
Roghan josh, the "classic" curried lamb, is more than respectable here: the meat melting rather than chewy, lean and flavorful and piquant with coriander, although not particularly hot. Lamb comes kebab'd as well, of course, and stewed in various combinations; the most intriguing is sag josh, dressed in an earthy spinach sauce.
(Incidentally, although the entrees themselves vary from warm to hot, the condiments are more consistent. Mango chutney has the high, sweet heat of ginger, while the lemon pickle is quite hot and rather salty.)
In the chicken list is tandoori (chicken marinated in yogurt and spiced and then roasted), tika (kebab-ish tidbits) and murg masalam, an almost bourgeois stew with cream and yogurt sauce that is pleasant but somewhat pedestrian.
The shrimp, on the other hand, ordered spicy, was a blinding revelation -- gently cooked, then cradled in a tomato-blushed sauce with enough oil to make it cling to your defenseless lips. It's a must for masochists.
There are several other alternatives, including a fresh fish of the day, chopped spiced beef with fried eggs, and biryani, the seductively fragrant rice cooked with the lamb rather than separately and full of its juices and allspice.
A half-dozen vegetarian curries include peas and potatoes, potatoes and spinach, spinach and cottage cheese; the vegetable curry of the day tends to be a hodgepodge of as many as seven or eight ingredients from cauliflower to corn.
There is also a sampler plate for $17.50 which includes soup, a meat curry and a vegetable curry of your choice along with rice and bread.
While the cooking seems to improve as time passes, the managers haven't quite got the tempo. Taj Mahal beer, advertised on the table cards, is often unavailable, and the Pimm's, the gin-based liquor that is indispensable in such situations, is allowed to run out. But the staff is extremely pleasant, its nervousness is wearing off, and the laying of the table with hot dinner plates is a fine touch.