A strikingly modern Indian restaurant just off Old Dominion Drive in McLean, Café Taj is a contemporary oasis. A multi-tiered white marble fountain sits just inside the entryway greeting diners with a peaceful babble, some pause, toss a coin and make a wish. White columns flank both sides of the fountain and stand guard to a pristine miniature replica of the Taj Mahal. The tables are smooth black marble and the interior is filled with light that streams through the exterioir glass and plays off of the mirror-covered walls. It feels open and airy. Recessed lighting glows overhead, just dim enough to feel relaxing, but bright enough to easily peruse the menu.While reviewing the menu, sample a flavorful combination. A cold Kingfisher, a traditional Indian beer and a couple papadums ($1.50), sun-dried fried crackers, are a tasty start. The papadums are large, round and crispy, flecked with black pepper. Snap the cracker into pieces and dip it into the accompanying green mint sauce, made of a mixture of green chilies and coriander. The papadum’s fire is happily squelched by a sip of the chilled beer.
The papadum’s fire is happily squelched by a sip of the chilled beer.
Attractive white porcelain bowls provide a noticeable contrast to the brilliant colors of the dishes. The Chicken Tikka Masala ($14.95) — boneless chicken breast barbecued in the tandoor, then cooked with onions and garahm masala in lightly spiced tomato sauce — arrives laden with large chunks of white chicken and sweet onions, covered in a deep red sauce. Butter Chicken ($14.95), a classic favorite made with tandoori chicken juliennes cooked with green peppers, fenugreek, ginger and garlic in a tomato sauce flavored with nine Indian spices, is bright orange and spicy, yet delicate and mild at the same time.
Saag Paneer ($10.95), fresh garden spinach and farmer's cheese in a flavorful curry sauce, is a smooth dark green, hiding the fresh white cubes of cheese like small treasures. All entries are served with basmati rice. The warm Tandoori Nan ($1.95), fine flour bread baked in tandoor, comes to the table in a basket and is warm. It folds and breaks to hold the delightful sauces. A side of Mango Chutney ($2.95), pieces of mango made pungent, sweet and tangy, adds a slight sweetness to the meal.
Ramesh, a waiter, recommends the Gulab Jamun ($4.49) — two dumplings deep fried to a golden brown and then dipped in a syrup of honey and rose water — for dessert. They arrive two small balls of golden dough, topped with chopped nuts. The honey and rose water are absorbed and noticeable only once a bit is taken. Inside, the cake is moist with a just a hint of sweetness. Each spoonful is memorable. For a salient finish, a cup of steaming Masala Tea ($2.49), a pleasant, aromatic, spicy Indian tea, does the trick. Don’t worry about the tea leaves and spices floating on top, be patient and they will settle to the bottom and out of your way in no time. Adding a touch of sugar and cream to the tea brings added depth to the flavor. Now sit back, sip tea and listen to the slow flow of the water making its way down each smooth tier of the fountain.
1379 Beverly Rd
McLean, VA 22101
Fri & Sat 5:30-10:30