Let Tikka Masala take your tastebuds on a culinary tour of India
February 11, 2014
By Peter Clark
As a regular patron of Indian restaurants, I felt very comfortable in Tikka Masala.
Walking into the clean and tidy restaurant in Gilman Village, you smell a unique blend of exotic aromas and hear the rhythmic sounds of Indian music. While these sensory triggers are more or less standard for most Indian restaurants, I still find them welcoming.
Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Tikka Masala offers a lunch buffet. It features a standard selection of dishes. Aloo masala (spiced potatoes and vegetables), chana masala (spiced chickpeas and vegetables) and tandoori chicken all make an appearance with many other assorted selections, including appetizers and desserts.
Long ago, I stopped choosing the lunch buffet option at Indian restaurants. One of the chief reasons I enjoy the cuisine as much as I do lies in how well spiciness enhances the all-around flavor. Many do not share my enjoyment of spicy food, and most Indian restaurants cater to that by offering only mild dishes on buffets. For that reason, I skip the buffet and go straight to the menu.
I should comment on the menu because it is quite an extensive list. Tikka Masala can make many classics, but also boasts an extremely interesting selection of chef’s specialties. I will definitely return to try some of them.
If you go
During my pleasant lunch, I wanted to see how the restaurant handled some of my favorite dishes. Vegetable pakora (vegetables fried in a batter of chickpea flour) is a given and one I cannot pass up. I also ordered samosas, spiced vegetable potato dumplings. Once upon a time in Kentucky, of all places, I had the perfect samosa and I have searched for its like ever since. For my main dish, I ordered saag paneer (spiced spinach with homemade cheese) and garlic naan.
When the polite server asked me how spicy I wanted the saag paneer, you’d better believe I said, “As hot as you can make it.”
I have little to say about the pakoras. A restaurant has to really try to mess up battered and fried vegetables. Tikka Masala delivered the expected deliciousness.
While the restaurant’s samosas did not run in quite the same league as that fabled Kentucky favorite, they tasted wonderful. A restaurant will usually fill a large dumpling with mostly potatoes, leaving an often bland taste. Tikka Masala gave the samosa a pleasant balance of potatoes, spices and peas. The appetizer was wrapped in a papadum, a thin and crispy cracker-like dough. I would have preferred a heartier wrapping, but it did nothing to ruin the flavor.
Saag paneer is honestly one of my favorite foods, and I do not think I have ever had a bad version of the dish (excepting some of my early attempts at cooking it). Tikka Masala served me one of the best orders of saag paneer I have ever tasted. It was rich and well-seasoned, bursting through the door of my taste buds, demanding attention. Eaten with sincerely good garlic naan and basmati rice, the saag paneer insisted I keep eating well after I felt full. The paneer, made with only milk, lemon juice and thyme, gave a light diversity to the overall taste. It’s like a breakdown in an enthusiastic song, letting you regroup before jumping back into the energetic dance.
The only disappointment in the meal was the dish could have been a hair spicier. I am not trying to impress anyone with my tolerance, but rather merely saying it would have pushed it that much further up my rankings of top saag paneer experiences.
About the whole meal, the only other complaint was my wait for the food. Although only a handful of people were at the restaurant, they all had the lunch buffet and I did not think my food needed to take the 20-25 minutes it did.
The pricing was a little higher than I anticipated with my saag paneer costing $12.95. Still, Tikka Masala serves large portions and I had enough leftovers for an enormous dinner. It was well worth the cost and the wait.
I would absolutely recommend Tikka Masala as a lunch or dinner spot. It has everything you would expect in a successful Indian restaurant and more.
Restaurant reviews are a regular feature of The Issaquah Press. Reviewers visit restaurants unannounced and pay in full for their meals.