Tucked in a mall on University Boulevard near New Hampshire Avenue, Tiffin is a true jewel: a restaurant that serves high-quality Indian food at reasonable prices in a serene atmosphere.
The decor is simple yet elegant with rich green napkins set against white tablecloths. A large window into the cooking area allows you to watch the chefs place the food in the tandoor--an Indian clay oven. The service was polite and unobtrusive. I felt pampered and catered to, without experiencing the usual expense that goes with such service.
Before our appetizers arrived we were treated to pappadam, a light crisp peppery bread that was served with three dipping sauces: a spicy mint, a coriander chutney and a sweet plum. For our appetizer we ordered the Tiffin Hors d'Oeuvres ($7.95), a sampler that included lamb sheekh kabab--finely minced spicy lamb shaped into small thick sausages then cooked in the tandoor. The chicken tandoori was pleasing too, marinated in yogurt, ginger and garlic and barbecued in the clay oven. Both dishes are available as entrees as well.
Tiffin's main courses offer many traditional Indian meals and some innovations as well. From the vegetarian listings we ordered Jade and Pearls ($9.50), a mixture of curried shredded spinach and cubes of homemade cheese with a hint of coriander. There are 11 other vegetarian dishes to try, but Jade and Pearls was such a flawless blend of flavors that I can't imagine dining at Tiffin and not ordering it again.
We included two poultry dishes in our main course selections, the Chicken Makhni ($9.50) and the Chicken Tikka ($9.95). The makhni is marinated boneless grilled chicken, its tiny morsels expertly cooked in a wonderful sauce that somehow manages to be simultaneously creamy, buttery and light. The chicken tikka, marinated in Indian spices, lemon juice and yogurt, is similar to the chicken tandoori: char-grilled perfectly with each bite wonderfully moist. All entrees were served with rice infused with saffron and finely shredded carrot.
With our lamb selection we ventured into the fiery side of Indian dishes. The Goan Lamb Vindaloo ($9.95) was a pleasing combination of lamb and potatoes in a very spicy curry sauce. The meat was truly fork-tender. The raita (yogurt with chopped onion, cucumber and tomato) was a cool and refreshing side dish that complemented the ferocity of the lamb.
Bread is an absolute must with your meal, and Tiffin bakes seven different types in their tandoor. Our table selected naan (a thick flat white bread) and the poori, a puffy whole-wheat bread--and we used them to soak up every drop of the delectable sauces of our entrees.
If you haven't visited Tiffin yet or are unfamiliar with Indian cooking, I suggest you stop by for lunch, when there is an extensive buffet that allows you to try several dishes. Then return for a relaxing, superbly prepared dinner.
Tiffin, 341 University Blvd. East, Langley Park, Md. 20783; call 301-434-9200. Open daily: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10:00 p.m. All-you-can-eat luncheon buffet, $6.95 weekdays, $8.95 weekends.
CAPTION: Chef Ivan Castelino deals with fresh hot naan bread at Tiffin, an Indian restaurant in Langley Park.