Given the scarcity of Indian restaurants in suburban Maryland, Rockville's new Tandoor, an outpost of the original Tandoor in Georgetown, is a place you want to love.
It's gorgeous to look at, with a sleek, sophisticated dining room decorated in matte copper that has a rich glow.
In the beauty department, this place easily eclipses the Georgetown branch. Add to that a courteous, accommodating staff and moderate prices, and you've got real cause for hope.
But there's a problem with the Rockville Tandoor: The food thus far has been erratic.
Some items are faultless, but others are notably off target, and certainly not as well prepared as their counterparts downtown.
The best items seem to be found among the appetizers and side dishes. The samosas, both vegetable and meat, are exceptionally good -- big and puffy with tender, nicely crisp pastry wrappers and peppery, beautifully flavored fillings free of oil. This is frying at its best.
There are good pakoras, too, the fritters lightly fried in fresh oil, with tasty shrimp or eggplant. Kofta kabab, a skewered meatball appetizer cooked over charcoal in the tandoor oven, is dense and flavorful.
Soups are also excellent, the lentil-based dal offering, aromatic and slightly tart, and the complexly flavored mulligatawny smooth as silk.
Don't miss the Indian breads, which are very well prepared here. Puri, the fried variety, is properly light and puffy and tastes of fresh oil, and tandoori roti, whole wheat baked in the tandoor oven, is nutty and brown-bottomed. There's a good white flour version called tandoori naan and a variant filled with a thin coating of spiced meat called keema naan.
It's among the main dishes where the quality begins to get uneven.
Rice, such an important staple in Indian cuisine, has been served hard-surfaced and clumpy.
Curries, too, are iffy. One night we had rogan josh with dry lamb and a yogurt tomato sauce that tasted grossly oversalted. But another visit yielded a pleasant shahi korma with tender beef in a velvety sauce with yogurt, crushed almonds and cloves.
Considering the restaurant's name, the shining light here ought to be the dishes made in the Indian clay oven called a tandoor. But on two occasions we found the tandoor-grilled items -- chicken, lamb, shrimp -- disappointingly dry. The traditional long marination in yogurt and spices had produced the wonderful flavor that characterizes tandoori foods, but the cooking had somehow dessicated the meat.
The only tandoori dish that didn't seem affected by the problem was the excellent minced lamb, similar to the appetizer.
Dryness afflicted the lamb biriani, too, although here the rice was properly tender. The spices in this dish were pleasant enough, but we missed the contrast of currants and slivered nuts, often served with biriani dishes but missing here.
At this stage, you can have a very good meal at the Tandoor if you order broadly among the soups, appetizers and breads, and stick mainly to the tandoori minced lamb for an entree.
The problems are probably just signs of growing pains at a new restaurant. We still have high hopes.