The closest I've ever come to Indian cooking was a curry chicken dish my sister-in-law used to make. It was more cheddar cheese than curry or chicken, so who was I to complain? I love cheese.
When it was suggested that I profile an Indian restaurant, I was just a bit hesitant. After all, I'd always been told Indian cuisine was some of the spiciest food around. It would put my stomach through the ringer and leave it out to dry.
Then I took my wife on a short trip to Tandoori Nites in Stockton for dinner.
The first thing you notice is the smell. Aromas that arouse the senses linger throughout the restaurant. I was instantly transported to another world, and my culinary fears were put at ease; they offer mild, medium and hot versions of all their dishes.
Param Lamba, the hostess, greeted us warmly and led us to our table. She made sure we were comfortable and left us to decide what we wanted to dine on.
A chance to peruse the menu and look around spoke volumes. The ambience of the main dining area makes you forget you're in North Stockton. I felt as if we were sitting in a restaurant in India itself. The music was played at just the right volume to keep the theme subtley in one's mind.
After ordering (we chose the non-vegetarian mild dinner for two), we couldn't help but notice the number of patrons in Tandoori Nites had doubled since we entered. As groups of people entered, Lamba and her daughter Simi Singh greeted the regulars with hugs and treated the new-comers as if they had known them for years.
Singh, along with her husband Jassi Singh - who does all the cooking - opened Tandoori Nites 13 years ago.
"We were the first Indian restaurant to open in Stockton," said Simi. "Many have come after us, but we are planning on staying."
We received our salads and immediately fell in love. The mixture of spices for the dressing was truly unique, bringing out the freshness of the vegetables.
Shortly after that, our main dish and side dishes arrived on a sizzling platter; Tandoori chicken surrounded by boti kabab, chicken curry (the proper kind), aloo matar, rice and nan (leavened bread).
Restaurant At A GlanceWhat: Tandoori Nites
Where: 8102 Kelley Drive in Stockton
House Specialties: Tandoori Chicken, Boti Kabab, other tandoori and kabab dishes. They also offer catering for any occasion.
Price Range: Appetizers range from $2.95 to $7.95; main courses range from $6.25 to $11.95; combination dinners start at $14.95 and go up to $24.95 (for two); desserts and bread start at $1.25 and go up to $5.75.
Hours Of Operation: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for lunch, 5-9 p.m. for dinner, Wednesday through Monday; 9:30 p.m. on weekends. Closed Tuesday.
The first dish I had to try was the boti kabab, beef cubes marinated in various spices. If you've ever had an explosion of rich flavor cover your tastebuds, while meat melts in your mouth, then you'll have an idea of how boti kabab tastes.
Aloo matar is potatoes and green peas in a spiced gravy. The thick, creamy texture and deep taste mingles to create a perfect side dish. I couldn't get enough!
Both the curry chicken and Tandoori chicken were fantastic dishes that left me wanting more. The gravies and juices left on the plate were easily sopped up with the nan. Imagine the warmest, softest, most mouth-watering bread you've ever eaten, and you haven't come quite close to how good nan is. Not a crumb was left by the time we were too full to continue.
Simi and Lamb both checked on us from time to time, making sure we were satisfied. The glazed happy looks spoke volumes, I'm sure.
We'll be spending quite a few evenings at Tandoori Nites.