Order the assorted meats appetizer platter at Tamarind, a deceptively unassuming Indian restaurant which opened in June in Apex, and one of the specialties you'll get is a tandoori chicken dish called murg manpasand. The name is a mouthful, but its translation -- "heart-pleasing chicken" -- couldn't be more accurate. The dish features boneless chicken breast, marinated in a blend of yogurt, ginger, garlic, saffron and -- just a rough guess here -- about a million other fragrant spices. The chicken is then roasted in a clay oven called a tandoor, and finished with a squeeze of lime.
The name of the dish may not be familiar to fans of Indian cuisine, but the recipe is similar to that for chicken tikka, a dish found on the menu of virtually every restaurant with a tandoor oven. There's one key difference, however: In murg manpasand, the chicken is cut into substantial chunks rather than bite-size pieces, with a corresponding improvement in juiciness.
Murg manpasand is just one of several examples of owner Rupinder Singh's willingness to take a few chances with the menu at his first restaurant. Sprinkled among the familiar curries, biryani and tandoori dishes, you'll find a number of specialties which are difficult to find locally, if not downright impossible. They're worth seeking out.
For that matter, murg manpasand isn't the only reason to begin your exploration with the assorted meats platter. Your rewards will also include galavat ke kebab, a savory regional variation on the ground-lamb seekh kebab, and a toothsome meat samosa. If you're looking for a vegetarian alternative to start your adventure, onion bhajia serves up slivers of sweet onion deep-fried in an exceptionally light chickpea batter -- a sort of Indian twist on onion rings, if you will, and every bit as companionable a match for a cold beer.
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When it comes to entrees, tandoori salmon, marinated in lemon juice, vinegar, ginger, garlic and herbs, is one route to gastronomic adventure. Another is buna lamb, a delicately seasoned stir-fry of cubed lamb steaks, onions and tomatoes. Bhindi masala, a spice-fragrant okra stew, is listed as a vegetarian main, but it's so good you might want to consider ordering it as a side dish for a nonvegetarian entree. Same goes for bhaingan bhartha, which features eggplant roasted over an open flame, then mashed and sautéed with onion, ginger, garlic and spices.
But for those in search of truly memorable culinary treasure, raan is the mother lode. A show-stopper of a dish as big (in terms of flavor as well as size) as its name is small, raan serves up a whole, bone-in leg of lamb, slow-cooked to succulent tenderness in the tandoor oven, then blanketed with your choice of sauce. I enjoyed the masala, but I imagine the lamb curry sauce would be an equally suitable match.
As richly gratifying as Tamarind is for gastronomic adventurers, it also offers ample rewards for those who prefer to remain on the familiar turf of dishes such as chicken korma and lamb biryani. Or, as the case may be, sail the familiar waters of prawn curry (starring perfectly cooked shellfish whose size lives up to the "prawn" claim) and fish vindaloo.
If the kitchen has any weaknesses, they are breads and desserts, neither of which (with the exception of a creamy, cardamom-perfumed rice pudding) have been better than average when I've visited. The only out-and-out misfire I encountered, though, was poori, a whole-wheat flat bread that ideally arrives at the table inflated like a balloon but in my case was deflated and greasy.
The wait staff are solicitous and generally efficient. The lags I encountered during one visit I attribute to the fact that it was a Sunday night and the restaurant appeared to be operating with a skeleton crew in the dining room. I hasten to add that the kitchen, however, was up to its usual high standards. In fact, you might even say that pretty much everything that comes out of that dining room is heart-pleasing.