Sometimes I crave good food at reasonable prices, near home and without frills.
Enter the Union Tandoori Grill on upper Union Street in Schenectady, which has been open for only a few months.
Union Tandoori Grill
WHERE: 1599 Union St., Schenectady. 346-7447, www.uniontandoori.com
WHEN: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday
HOW MUCH: $37.15 without tax and tip
MORE INFO: accessible, street parking, all major credit cards accepted, sound level permits conversation, dine-in, take-out, catering
Chef/Owner Lawrence Lazurus (he pointed out a tapestry of Schenectady landmarks hanging on the wall, claiming to be named for the Stockade Indian) started the five-table storefront as a pizza place that did not do well.
According to Lawrence, his wife asked him, “And what do you eat at home?”
“This,” he replied pointing to his restaurant kitchen.
“Then this is what you should be cooking,” she told him matter-of-factly, and the Tandoori Grill was born.
Sparsely decorated and finished with horizontal pine boards, a throwback from its former BBQ and pizza joint status, the Union Tandoori Grill is a model of efficiency: wait or eat in the front half of the venue, cook in the rear half separated by a counter.
Ordering was straightforward, as it has to be for a one-person operation: look at the menu at the counter, tell Lawrence what you want, sit at a small metal table and wait to be served.
A bit of a wait
Aye, there’s the rub. When business picks up, so does wait time. Gail and I chatted for 20-25 minutes before being served. Admittedly, it was difficult to be annoyed in the presence of Lawrence’s smile and sense of humor. In a small restaurant where everything is prepared in-house, it is advisable to phone in an order.
When the food arrived, it was on real plates instead of styrofoam, a big plus for this traditional diner.
Gail’s Chicken Tikka Masala ($6.99) included pieces a chicken slow-cooked in a sauce with mild Indian spices (masala means “spices”). She judged the spice level “perfect.” Her entrée was served with basmati rice, yogurt and naan. Her Samosas ($1.99 each) were large crisp vegetarian turnovers stuffed with potatoes, peas and despite being labeled “mild” on the menu, registered “very high,” on Gail’s Masala Meter.
Spice of life
I like spicy. I ordered my Lamb Vindaloo Dinner Special “medium” ($14.95), and it was almost over the top, spice-wise for me. A stew of tender pieces of lamb, tomatoes, potatoes, vinegar and Indian spices was served with the usual basmati rice, naan and yogurt made from whole milk with a touch of mint, cucumbers, tomatoes and onions. Lawrence explained that he had used “skinny Indian peppers,” then added jalapenos for a little extra heat. Zing! The extra jolt was quite effective and my tongue danced as if skipping over hot coals.
With patrons being careful about their intake of food these days, a restaurant, even a small one with a small menu would be foolish not to point out vegan and gluten-free items. All four entrees ($6.99) including the vegetarian Paneer Palak (spinach and Indian cheese) and Aloo (potatoes cooked in herbs and mild Indian spices) plus the Daily Special are gluten-free.
Gail had grabbed a diet cola from the cooler, but I wanted something a little more exotic — like Lassi (natural yogurt with a touch of rosewater). Lawrence told me the Carrot Lassi was not available this day, but Mango Lassi ($3) was. The pale peach colored slightly thick drink was perfect for cooling the flames of the Indian spices.
We had no room for dessert. In fact, at least half of our entrées were wrapped to come home with us. Still, I wanted to fulfill my role as reviewer and sample dessert.
Lawrence explained that the Baklava was not made by his wife; it was purchased. So I brought home small containers of Kheer ($2.99), traditional Indian rice pudding made by his wife, and Rasmalai ($3.99), an Indian dessert (as well as a dessert enjoyed in Pakistan and Bangladesh) made of soft cheese patties swimming in a sea of sweet rich creamy milk.
This unusual dessert is delicately flavored with cardamom, saffron and pistachio bits. The rice pudding was creamy but not mushy. Rice grains were nearly al dente. The combination: Indian comfort food.
Lawrence refers to himself as an “accidental chef” whose recipes are his own. The mission statement at the bottom of the simple one-page menu best summarizes Mr. Lazurus’s mission:
“At Union Tandoori Grill, we strive to bring you the freshest ingredients and cook with recipes that are tasty and healthy for the body and soul for a reasonable price.”
To which I respond, amen, Lawrence of Union Street.