I absolutely love eating at Indian restaurants. The menus are so expansive and unique, the food so aromatic and flavorful, and the restaurants so enjoyable that any Indian meal is a treat. I was lucky enough to be able to eat at two Indian restaurants in New Haven this month (so. much. nan.) and I wanted to do a review comparing Zaroka and Tandoor. Zaroka is located off of Chapel St. on York and Tandoor can be found a couple of blocks north from Zaroka on Chapel St., a spot that’s a little bit further from the central restaurant area surrounding the Yale campus. When I felt a craving for some curry in my life, my food app/internet/word of mouth searches ended in what seemed to be a tie between these two spots (besides Thali Too which is vegetarian and Thali which would have been way too far of a walk in my hungry state). So, here is my breakdown comparing them:
When you walk into Zaroka, the host takes you upstairs to the seating area and you get the feeling you have just entered the dining room of a bustling Indian household. I was there on a Thursday night mid-November and the place was pretty busy. The atmosphere was definitely one of the highlights of the meal. The service was also impeccable. My glass of water was never even half empty (half full?) and the waiter gave us excellent recommendations. Entrees were about $15-$20, and appetizers were about $5, both of which were reasonable based on the portions.
Tandoor, on the other hand, surprised me. I came in on the Thursday before Thanksgiving break, fully expecting to see other Yalies and New Haven residents trying to get in one last big meal before Thanksgiving break. However, at 9PM, the place was totally empty, which was a little strange to me. Maybe their famed lunch buffet draws a bigger crowd. A plus, though, is that the restaurant is located in what is essentially a steel trailer, so you kind of feel like you’re eating in a diner in the 50s (except I still think there would have been more people around in a diner). The service was a little bit slower at Tandoor even though no one else ever came in during our meal, but the staff was just as friendly as Zaroka’s and pretty attentive. They even gave us free dessert, which turned out to be Gulab Jamun, a pastry made from dry milk and served in honey syrup (see the picture, they were interesting and yummy). The prices were almost exactly the same as Zaroka’s.
Food: Close win by Zaroka
Onto the most important part. With this post in mind, and as your chicken-lover extraordinaire, I ordered the same classic dish at both spots. It’s what my family always orders when we get Indian food at home: Chicken Tikka, which is cubes of marinated chicken barbequed on a skewer, and Masala sauce on the side, which is a thick onion, tomato, and butter sauce. The combination just makes you feel so warm and happy, and I have been told (by my waiter at Zaroka) that this is an excellent way to order. So, comparing this dish at both restaurants, I would say that it was close, but Tandoor outperformed Zaroka chicken-wise. You could tell that their chicken had been barbequed perfectly in their clay oven, it came out sizzling hot, and it was juicy and tender. Zaroka’s chicken was a little drier and I needed to rely more on the sauce there for flavor. However, Zaroka’s Masala sauce was some of the best I have ever had (I liked it much more than Tandoor’s) so this did not take away from the quality of my meal! I was impressed at both places.
Brian was again my companion at both restaurants—lucky for him as he gets to have me there to take pictures of all of his food and he doesn’t get to eat until I’m done. At Zaroka, we shared the Mirch Pakora appetizer, which is jalapeños in a crispy lentil batter, and it is SPICY. We both really liked it, and I think this is where my good impression of the water glass service kicked in, because we definitely needed it. We also ordered a plain nan which was great, and we split the Navratan Korma, which is a mix of nine vegetables in nine spices (wild guess- does navratan mean nine?) in a nutty cream gravy. It was pretty good, especially paired with the nan, but I wouldn’t order it again—the spices weren’t very flavorful and the creaminess made it overly heavy for an appetizer.
For his entrée, Brian ordered the Lam Madras, which he really liked. It was cubes of lamb cooked in a spicy southern blend of spices. The waiter had to double check that we were sure we wanted it at its full spiciness, but it was really good. Again, lots of water glass refilling. At Tandoor, he ordered Seafood Vindaloo, which was salmon, scallops, and shrimp in a spicy Vindaloo sauce. Vindaloo is one of the spiciest curries, made of potatoes, sweet cinnamon, star anise, and freshly ground spices. We both agreed that his sauce, like mine, was better in the Zaroka dish. We also had plain nan at Tandoor but it was greasier than Zaroka’s, so I would say Zaroka won in the nan department, which for some is the most important department when choosing an Indian place.
While I wish I could try everything on these menus and then give you a perfect, EVEN longer answer about which place is better, both my body and my allowance can’t handle that. But the next time I get that craving for curry, I am headed to Zaroka for great service and atmosphere, some delicious fried jalapeños, what may be my all-time favorite Masala sauce, and of course, a whole lot of water.