Cheap Eats - Tandoor Restaurant

Pakistan meets India in Marietta

Thursday April 2, 2009 10:00 am EDT

I visited Tandoor Restaurant (279 Powers Ferry Road, Marietta, 678-560-2038) three times before I actually had a meal there. Two visits were on Mondays when they are closed — the signage was slightly obscured — and the other was a quick stop to grab a menu after feasting elsewhere. The seductive aroma of charred bread, dreamy spices and seared meat wafting from the kitchen prompted me to plan my immediate return.

The restaurant sits in between a Halal butcher and a Dominican salon in a random mini-strip mall. The decor is as spartan as an institutional cafeteria: no art, tablecloths, linen napkins or metal flatware. But the complex and soulful food makes up for the missing ambiance. Owner Shamshad Karim lived in Behar, India, before his family moved to Karachi, Pakistan, when he was a child, so the menu showcases dishes from both countries. Given the history between Pakistan and India, there are expected similarities and distinct differences between the two cuisines. Pakistani cooking is heavier, spicier, and uses beef — a rare occurrence in most Indian cooking due to religious restrictions.

Nehari, an extremely popular Pakistani delicacy normally eaten for breakfast since it is so rich (nihar means "morning" in Urdu), is traditionally cooked overnight so the meat becomes tender and the flavors of the broth meld. Karim — who made daily trips to Karachi’s many Nehari stands as a boy — serves the intensely flavored beef Nehari in a large bowl crowned with thick shreds of fresh ginger, chopped jalapeños and cilantro. While the large chunks of fall-apart beef can be eaten with a fork (or spoon), the best utensil is one of the many types of bread. The dense and pale yellow paratha flatbread glistens with the remaining vegetable oil used to crisp it ever so slightly. The naan bread is perfection; light as air with a crackly, charred bottom. Skip the unfortunately mushy and flatly seasoned cauliflower and potato curry in favor of the chanaa daal, a spicy turmeric and garam masala-laced stew of tender split yellow lentils topped with the crunchy chunks of jalapeños and grassy chopped cilantro.
I was excited at the prospect of the fried chicken, but the yogurt-and-spice-marinated version here was ultimately too dry. The beef chapli kabob is actually closer to a hamburger patty in shape, but the flavor is much different. The meat is encrusted with fiery red chili flakes and seasoned with myriad spices. Like most of the other meat dishes, it comes with slices of raw white onion, lime, cilantro and homemade silky tamarind chutney that sports a fair amount of heat. Those who favor goat will find numerous options, including goat brains. Goat korma is normally served at special occasions. Karim was actually cooking a batch for a catering gig when I spoke to him on the phone (most of his business is catering and carryout). Every cook has his or her own style; Karim describes his as a “red gravy made with all the traditional flavors like garam masala and fried onions.” The earthy gravy permeates each piece of the bone-in goat, which is tender enough to cut with a plastic spoon. And there’s plenty of marrow left to dig out and spread on the heavenly naan.

The remarkable thing about Tandoor’s food is that I didn’t feel weighed down after the copious amounts of spice, meat and bread. It may have taken me four visits to get a taste, but my persistence was worth the wait for some of the most exciting food I’ve eaten in Atlanta all year.

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