Venue Review: The Blue Taj
The Charlotte Observer
14815 Ballantyne Village Way
Blue Taj opened in Ballantyne several months ago with an eclectic menu, incorporating a number of worldly influences and ingredients in what consulting chef Mel Oza called at the time "not fusion, but more." I went, and it was terrific, though I was struck by how slow business was that night.
Then owner Pannu Singh decided to shift to an all-Indian menu. He says customers were seeking that, often because they had been to his first Charlotte venture, Copper in Dilworth.
I went, and it's really good - and Singh says business is picking up some.
It's an elegant little spot, smack by the movie theater entrance. It has a cool interior - ivory walls painted with red abstract shapes vaguely reminiscent of henna tattoo flourishes, orange sheers delineating dining areas, comfortable chairs.
It has plenty of classical Indian fare proven popular in this country (chicken tikka masala, vegetable korma, lamb rogan josh, saag paneer) but also less-usual dishes (chicken makhani, leek kofta) and lots of simple tandoori and tawa items - things cooked in the tandoor oven, or seared on the griddle-like implement that's called a tawa. It has dinner entrees ranging from $13 to $21.
It should be packed. I'm hoping folks just haven't found it yet.
Two things might help: a menu that works harder to explain dishes and ingredients, so people don't need to ask, and/or a staff more well-versed in explanations. Servers are friendly, quick and enthusiastic, but not all can put newcomers at their ease.
Some particularly good fare to try: Frontier Lamb Chops, marinated with mustard, chile and ginger, arrive atop a pool of sauce, with a few cauliflower and broccoli florets, carrots and onion.
As with all the entrees in the tandoor/tawa/roasted menu category, you choose between two: Methi curry is a sweet-sharp-edged, noncreamy sauce redolent with fenugreek.
Makahani (also spelled makhni on the menu) is one you'll recognize if you've had Indian butter chicken. Extremely rich, it's a creamy, tomato-y sauce spiked with honey. Salmon comes with the same choices and is beautifully juicy.
Saag paneer is a richer-than-usual version of the classic spinach dish, studded with cubes of fresh cheese. It's on a vegetarian lineup of more than a dozen options; other winners are a version of aloo gobhi (potatoes and cauliflower with plenty of cumin) and a stew-ish version of dal makhni: the butter is more tangible than the garlic in these black lentils.
Scallops and shrimp are used to good effect: Tawa-Curry Leaf Scallops brings five enormous ones, done to a turn with slivers of curry leaf (think the Asian version of bay leaf). I'm less fond of the ratio of chicken to sauce in the dishes such as tikka masala and jhalfrazie (it's a mite skimpy) and the lamb in one dish was overcooked, though the tomato-coriander glaze was fine.
Naan proves lovely: light, airy, a bit of char. Desserts work, too. Kheer - the sweet, milky rice pudding - doesn't overwhelm with rosewater, as it often can, while gulab jamun - a sort of delicate donut hole - get to the table piping hot.
Blue Taj is a welcome addition to an area that could use some dining diversity.