Chicken tikka from Taste of India, a new restaurant in Grants Pass. [Mail Tribune / Vickie Aldous]

Authentic spicy cuisine at Taste of India

Fans of Indian food can celebrate the opening of the Taste of India restaurant in Grants Pass, which has long been without a dining establishment devoted to the subcontinent's spicy dishes.

Local businessman Rocky Sharma, owner of a string of convenience stores, teamed with chef Sakin Ram to open the restaurant in early summer.

Sharma had occasionally offered prepared Indian foods at one of his Grants Pass convenience stores. If someone working at the store knew how to warm up the chicken tikka masala and naan, customers were in luck. If not, they went away empty-handed.

Sharma fielded so many requests to open a restaurant that he took the plunge.

The opening of Taste of India, 1214 N.W. Sixth St., means customers can get Indian food on a reliable basis. The quality of the food has also shot up, because it can be prepared and served hot for each customer.

My family of four went with our go-to Indian restaurant order: one chicken tikka entree ($12.99) and two chicken tikka masala entrees ($12.99 each), plus two orders of garlic naan ($2.49 each.) I had spicy chai tea made with milk ($1.99) and they had sodas ($1.49.)

For the uninitiated, chicken tikka is marinated chicken cooked in a traditional tandoor oven. At most Indian restaurants, including Taste of India, it comes out sizzling hot on a metal skillet, sometimes with grilled vegetables. Chicken tikka at the Grants Pass restaurant comes with slices of onion and bell pepper, plus a lime wedge.

Chicken tikka masala takes the tandoor oven-cooked meat, then adds a sauce made with cream, tomatoes and spices.

It's unclear whether the dish originated on the subcontinent, or was the invention of a chef from Bangladesh, Pakistan or India catering to the creamy sauce-loving residents of the United Kingdom. At any rate, this likely cross-cultural creation is often the highlight of an Indian restaurant outing in America.

My family likes to eat chicken tikka and chicken tikka masala on a bed of rice, which comes with the entrées. Taste of India puts a hint of licorice seeds in its rice to add to the flavor.

The restaurant's garlic naan, a type of flat bread, is soft, flavorful and fresh from the oven.

My daughter has her own invention, which she calls the naan-wich. She tops her naan with rice and chicken tikka masala, then eats it like a sandwich. I thought she was the only one who did that, but I saw a man at the next table make a naan-wich of sorts using naan and a smear of masala sauce. Perhaps someone should open a naan-wich food truck.

If there's any fault to be had at Taste of India, it's that the service can be erratic and inefficient. Various people came to our table, making multiple trips to deliver glasses, carafes of water and menus. Then it took more waiting for someone to come and take our order. At the end of our meal, my husband had to go to the counter to ask for the check and boxes for our leftovers.

At the same time, Sharma, the busy co-owner, has a friendly, outgoing personality and will sometimes make the rounds, greeting guests himself while delivering food.

People who want to avoid waiting can call ahead and ask for to-go orders of food, then pick up their containers of rice, naan and entrees in about half an hour. This option is for people who live nearby and can supply their own plates and silverware, because the food isn't packaged in ready-to-eat individual containers.

Other menu offerings include lamb, fish and vegetarian and vegan appetizers and entrees, plus traditional Indian desserts such as gulab jamun ($2.99), which are like soft doughnut holes in a sweet syrup.

Taste of India offers a lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and made-to-order dinners from 5 to 9:30 p.m. daily. Call 541-916-8400 for information.

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