Decorative umbrellas hang from the ceiling at Tandoor Cuisine of India, providing the small dining area with a splash of color. They have no special cultural significance — except, of course, to Tandoor’s customers.
“We took the umbrellas off for, I think, two days. And customers said, ‘Gasp! What have you done with the umbrellas?’ So we brought the umbrellas back,” said Rajwinder Kaur of Tandoor.
Preserving that sense of familiarity with their customers is crucial for Kaur and other members of the Nath family, which owns and operates Tandoor. Bringing authentic Northern Indian cuisine to Toledo diners is a as personal and friendly experience. “It’s a pretty small, intimate place. My parents cook, and we run the front.” Kaur explains.
For Kaur and her siblings, Tandoor is truly a family affair. Her parents, Ram Nath and Kamla Devi, have owned the restaurant for over 20 years, where members of the Nath family have made up the majority of the staff. The restaurant is a second home for family members long before they work there.
“I’m 24 now, and there are customers who have been coming since I was in grade school, and they would help me with my homework,” said Parminder Banga, Kaur’s younger sister, currently a Tandoor waitress.
Generational appeal has kept diners remarkably loyal to the Naths and Tandoor over the past two decades. “We have a regular (customer), who we call Mr. Paul. He drives from Defiance,” Kaur said. “He’s retired, he comes Thursday through Sundays.”
The communal nature of Indian cuisine fits in well with the restaurant’s family theme. A tandoor is a traditional Indian clay oven, used by members of the community to prepare breads for their own homes. An authentic version resides in Tandoor’s kitchen. Ram Nath prepares food in it every day for his clientele.
Among the restaurant’s most popular dishes are Tikka Masala, in both chicken and vegetarian versions, the traditional Naan breads (infused with flavors such as garlic and cilantro), and Kheer (rice pudding— see recipe at right) or Mango pudding for dessert, along with a wide variety of vegan options.
“We always had vegan dishes, but we’d never really mentioned them before now, and that’s becoming more popular. And most of our dishes are gluten-free,” Kaur said.
New diners often approach Indian food with a wary eye. “The first thing that people are wary of is the spice level. Everybody assumes that it will be hot. But we make it mild, medium or hot— or we could make it extremely hot, if you’d like,” Kaur said.
Tandoor’s dining area is small, adding to the feeling of intimacy. The colorful table and wall decorations contrast with low lighting, making for a relaxed, almost soothing, dining experience.
It’s an atmosphere that the Nath family has kept consistent throughout its ownership, the brief removal of the umbrellas notwithstanding. The only significant changes in the Tandoor approach lie in the internet age and efforts are spearheaded by young Parminder. “Since she’s been working here, she’s trying to make changes, like incorporating Facebook, Instagram and our website,” Kaur said.
Kheer (Rice Pudding)
- Rinse the starch from ¼ cup basmati rice until the water runs clear, and then soak in water for 30 minutes.
- Blanch 15-20 almonds in a small pan by bring water to a boil.
- Remove from heat and add the almonds, cover, and set aside for 30 minutes until cool enough to peel.
- Rinse 1 tablespoon golden raisins and powder 5-6 green cardamom pods with a mortar-pestle. Set both aside.
Making the Pudding
1. Bring 1 liter full-fat organic milk to a boil.
2. Reduce the flame and add the prepared rice. Stir and simmer.
3. Add 5 to 6 tablespoons sugar and continue to stir often to prevent lumps from forming.
4. After 25 minutes of cooking the rice, add the almonds and cardamom powder.
5. Continue cooking the rice until soft and the pudding has thickened.
6. Remove from heat, add the raisins, and then serve your kheer hot or warm.
The Bottom Line
Tandoor is that rare combination of exotic and comforting, offering authentic Indian fare with a presentation that makes diners of any culture feel right at home.
4-10pm, Tuesday and Wednesday. 11:30am-10pm with the lunch buffet from 11:30am-2:30pm, Thursday- Saturday. 11:30am-9:30pm, with the lunch buffet from 11:30am-3pm, Sunday. 2247 S. Reynolds Rd.,