Welcome to the fifth installment of Travels with Frenchie, a monthly food series in which a trio of culturally mismatched San Antonians explores our city’s culinary nooks and crannies. As with last month’s celebration of Vietnamese duck soup (Vit Nau Chao), our core team consisted of Frenchie (aka Fabien Jacob, sommelier at Le Rêve), Carlos the Mechanic (aka Carlos Montoya, informal taco scholar), and me (recovering vegan and known taco-truck stalker.)
This month we continued our journey across the North Side and ended up at the intersection of Stone Oak Parkway and Huebner, home to a new restaurant called India Taj-Palace ((210) 497-4800). Given the similar nomenclature, India Taj-Palace could easily be confused with India Palace, a wonderful restaurant at Fredericksburg and Wurzbach that has been a destination for many years. Frenchie described India Taj-Palace as being both “fresher” and “better,” going so far as to say he thought it was the best Indian restaurant in town. With such a strong endorsement, we had to try it.
Buffets can be the best of times and the worst of times. Many a tasty item has died a slow, simmering death trapped between the hot lights and Bunsen burners. I kept to the Tao, tried not to get my hopes too high, and made the ceremonial promenade around the buffet, pushing my face a few inches closer, looking for anything of interest. Luckily, things looked good right away. A fresh tray of chana masala (garbanzos in a spicy tomato sauce) had just been brought out, there were three different basmati buryanis to choose from, each with steam still coming off the top, and the chicken tikka masala was filled with juicy, thick pieces of chicken. The cook kept bringing out small batches of food, another good sign. We stopped observing and grabbed our plates.
The selection of mixed vegetables was bright, crisp, and perfectly cooked. India Taj –Palace offers a number of appealing vegetarian options, but Carlos approaches Indian food from the opposite end of the spectrum: He prefers his food to have once had fur and a mother. He’s old-school San Antonio and until now had resisted the lure of vegetarian Indian food, which made this moment all the more interesting.
And ... Carlos was blown away by the meatless cornucopia. The potatoes were cooked perfectly — neither too hard nor too soft, with an enticing hint of cumin. The onion-cilantro naan sent him reeling. “The cumin and cilantro combination always seems to hint at some more profound and forgotten connection between all things of this world and beyond,” Carlos reflected. “A spice from Syria and cilantro from North Africa ... cradles of civilization and all.” The vegetable somosas were also a hit with our meatatarian. “Those triangle-shaped breads with veggies inside them ... I’m not much for vegetables, but when wrapped in that pastry it was hard not to return for seconds and thirds,” he said.
Frenchie was impressed with the Saag Paneer, praising the exceptional freshness of the cheese, which gave the dish a slightly orange color, distinguishing it from the more typical deep-green hue. My favorite dish was the chicken korma, a cream sauce with cashews, almonds, and raisins. I could have kept pouring spoonfuls of it over rice for another round, but I forced myself to try a variety of other options, such as the tandoori chicken, which was moist and well-spiced with turmeric.
Is India Taj-Palace the best Indian place/palace in town? They pay great attention to detail. Nothing we tried that day seemed overcooked, which sounds simplistic but is especially important for vegetarian food. The onion-cilantro naan bread epitomized their dedication to fresh ingredients. For a restaurant with an all-day buffet, their ability to efficiently orchestrate a wide variety of items was impressive. A more thorough analysis is required, but we’re committed to doing the hard work. •