Hidden in the back corner of an island strip mall in the shopping mecca of the Lehigh Valley is a relatively new restaurant serving some great Indian cuisine. Taste of India offers authentic eats, a British chef and an Indian wait staff. The decor is a bit too pastel for my taste, and the place is about as cozy as an airport. Still, it's a bit surprising to find in the midst of a Drug Emporium, a lawn care center, and other strip mall shops.
We went to Taste of India on a whim and were convinced that it merited a return visit. The dal and chutney were good. For those of you who lack knowledge of the ins and outs of Indian food, dal is a thin crispy lentil-flour-based wafer, and chutney is, well... a relish. We were served both onion and mint chutney. Mint chutney tastes much better than its neon-green hue would suggest; trust me.
As an appetizer we had vegetable samosas, batata wada, bhaji and papadam. Besides being unpronounceable to newcomers, these tidbits were all quite flavorful. The basic premise was vegetables, and sometimes homemade cheeses, fried either in oil or in a pastry shell. The spices in these appetizers were the real key; the vegetables were simply greens and potatoes.
It took the waiter a few times to get our orders right, but in the end we all got the food we thought we ordered.
Dinner consisted of tandoori shrimp masala (shrimp marinated in spices, cooked in a clay oven, and then sautéed with garlic and green vegetables in a red sauce), lamb tikki masala (tandoori lamb cooked in butter and onions and served in a red sauce), and karahi lamb (lamb cubes cooked with spices and herbs in a skillet). The karahi lamb looked a bit dry but was tender and flavorful inside. The other lamb dish with red sauce was spicy enough to excite but not overpower the other flavors in the dish. The same was true of the shrimp, which had a nice consistency and a more delicate blend of flavors than you often find in spicy dishes. The rice was light fluffy and well seasoned with saffron and other spices.
The coffee we had after dinner was a bit on the low-grade side. I'd recommend skipping the entire dessert and coffee experience in favor of Barnes and Noble's cafe up the street. But don't miss the authentic after-dinner tasties: rock candy, anisette candy, and various seeds and nuts hidden in a little alcove shelf by the door.
If you've never gone for Indian cuisine before and want give it a try, Taste of India is a good place to start. It lacks atmosphere, but the chef knows what he's doing. It's especially good if you are looking for vegetarian or spicy dishes.
Taste of India, 2126 MacArthur Road, Whitehall, PA. (610) 821-1460. Dinner entrees $10-15, lunch buffet $6.