Indian, Nepalese ◌ $$ ◌ 81 Union St (Newton Centre)
It’s easy to overlook some shops and restaurants on Newton Centre’s Union St. because of their compact storefronts, inconspicuous entrances, and small signage. Nestled neatly in the basement of 81 Union St., House of Tandoor is one of those places. If it weren’t for the sign draped over the iron railing above the stairs, pedestrians could easily walk right by.
Owner Ram Dhital unlocked the doors of his second restaurant to Newton early in January. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. until 11 p.m., the sole Indian restaurant in the area offers a fixed price weekday lunch buffet and weekend brunch.
How’s the service?
House of Tandoor is a sit-down restaurant. It offers delivery (with a reasonably low delivery fee) and takeout, so when you walk in you may see a few patrons waiting near the hostess stand for their bags full of spicy Indian goodness that they can enjoy in their homes.
Meanwhile, the wait staff mills about, attentive (my water glass was never empty) and uncertain (our waiter came back a few times after clearing our plates to offer dessert—he seemed bewildered that we didn’t even want to look at the menu), but adequate, as a new restaurant would be in its first few weeks of business.
What’s the atmosphere like?
The low lighting and red tablecloths make for a warm, cozy dining room. There is additional seating in small back room—with only three tables, the seclusion ensures an even more intimate space. The buffet station was set up by the windows, copper trays lining the table in a neat row, in a display curious to an unknowing visitor, but certainly not an obstruction to their dinner.
A variety of groups comfortably filled the restaurant—some families, a few couples—while traditional Indian music filled any silence, playing loudly enough for customers to notice, but softly enough for them to have a conversation.
How’s the food?
To start, our waiter brought a basket of papadum, an Indian crisp usually made from chickpea flour with an earthy flavor, and three chutneys, ranging from sweet and smooth to spicy and thick. The sauces generally were on the sweeter side, especially if they had a tomato base.
Surprisingly sweet were the chicken chilli momos. Momos are Nepalese dumplings—they can be steamed, fried, served in broth, or sautéed with peppers and onions and covered in a sauce, called chilli.
I’d never had momos before, and I definitely didn’t know what to expect from chilli momos. I wasn’t necessarily disappointed by the dish—it tasted quite good. But it wasn’t spicy, and with a name like “chili,” that’s what I was expecting. Traditionally, it seems like momos are generally a pretty spicy dish, but House of Tandoor doesn’t present it that way.
The chicken tikka masala (don’t get me wrong, it outdoes Lower’s infinitely), likewise, was a touch too sweet. Masala as a blend of spices has a lot of flavors that are often used in sweet dishes—cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom being a few—so it’s not surprising that a masala dish would be on the sweeter spectrum, flavor-wise, but it needed rice or naan to absorb some of the sweetness.
Speaking of, one order of naan—which is one massive piece—is absolutely shareable. A necessity at any Indian restaurant, House of Tandoor doesn’t miss the mark with its warm, leavened bread, which they make 10 varieties of. Ordering a few, though, is ideal, since it’s the best vessel to soak up the excess sauce from the serving bowls.
It’s a common theme to have so many variations under one general dish: The menu is quite a few pages of just that. The number of options borders overwhelming, challenging diners to choose wisely.
Dishes generally were more oriented toward Indian fare, with a small section of the menu devoted to the cuisine of Nepal. Since Nepal borders northern India, the cultures share a lot of the same food-related influences.
Yet, compared to the menu of Dhital’s first restaurant, Himalayan Bistro—located in West Roxbury—the menu lacks the flare that an increased number of uniquely Nepalese dishes could have given it. With only momo and chow mein—traditionally a Chinese dish, but very popular in Nepal—in the “Nepali Corner,” Dhital, himself born in Nepal, missed an opportunity to introduce Newton to the food of his home country.
What’s the verdict?
House of Tandoor is a pretty typical Indian restaurant—there are plenty of options on the menu, the dishes are made to be shared. As the only Indian restaurant in Newton, even if it wasn’t the only Indian restaurant in Newton, it’s definitely not a bad choice.
The sauces could be a bit more savory and contain a little more spice, but the dishes still taste very good and are nice and filling, especially for a chilly winter night. The Nepalese cuisine has a nice flavor, but is surprising (and maybe not completely authentic). Just make sure you get a couple different kinds of naan.
Featured Image by Mary Wilkie / Heights Editor