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A wild menu of Indian delights 

A pose of objectivity is almost always a sham. I'm more concerned with being fair to a restaurant that being objective, but in the case of Tandoor of India, my opinion is plain biased. I eat lunch there every Wednesday, and one of the owners, Makhan Singh, treats me and my family like his own.

That said, I would not be eating there once a week if the place weren't great. I eat from the same buffet everybody else eats from, and aside from a very friendly greeting --- which, come to think of it, everybody else seems to get --- I get standard Tandoor service on my visits.

What makes a person a regular at a restaurant? Most want consistent quality and value, and many come for one item they simply can't get enough of. My children eat chicken makhani and little else, and are quite happy. Many others would say the same of those lovely chunks of chicken in aromatic, honey-tinged cumin sauce.

But I love Singh's other restaurant, Thali of India, for its diversity. Two years ago, I wrote, "India is dizzyingly diverse, and it's exciting to experience a broader slice of its culinary spectrum." Both restaurants have food from all over India, like Kerala black peppercorn meat; rich, coconut sauces from Goa; and the Anglo-Indian Balti dishes.

At Tandoor, Singh and partner AshuSanyal have upped the ante. From Bombay, there are puris and chaats. Generally, a puri is a freshly-made fried bread of some sort. Some are puffy, almost like a savory donut. Then there are panipuri, the famous "water balls," which are crisp orbs filled with potatoes and dunked in a thin, aromatic water ($3.95). "Chaat" basically means crunchy and soft things in tart/sweet yogurt sauce. Tandoor has many kinds, usually one on the buffet. It would take a dozen visits to try them all.

Thali occasionally serves South Indian specialties during Sunday brunch, but Tandoor puts them on the menu. A dosa is a thin crêpe made of ground rice (and sometimes lentil, though not here), filled with any number of things. Masaladosas are filled with spicy potato and onion ($6.95), and come fresh as part of the weekend buffet. Idli are plain, steamed patties of rice and lentil that come with a sour dip called sambar ($4.95). All this is common takeout food in India and is on the buffet.

An odd addition at Tandoor is a short menu of "Manchurian specialties." Chinese food is popular in India, particularly in the North (where Singh is from). My friend Charlie though the Manchurian chili chicken was like General Tsao's chicken ($11.95), but it's less gelatinous and the chicken is exceptionally tender.

At dinner the other night, we had the aforementioned Kerela black peppercorn dish, positively popping with pepper ($11.95). We also had Goan fish curry, with a thick coconut sauce.

But I'm a buffet junkie. Tandoor's offers more breadth than any other local Indian restaurant can. There are daily staples: chicken makhani, palakpaneer (farmer's cheese in spinach), idly with sambar, chick peas with deep-fried bread, and tandoori chicken. But there will also be another two or three vegetarian and meat dishes, two or three desserts, a chaat, and masala tea (and dosas and more on the weekends). It's an absurd smorgasbord, just $6.99 daily, $7.99 Saturday, $8.99 Sunday. There is also a dinner buffet on Tuesday ($10.99).

Singh wanted to attract students, so the buffet is just $5.99 every day with a valid ID. Dinner boxes --- what the South Indians call a "thali" --- are just $10 and include a main dish, a side, rice, and naan (a second box is half price for students).

Tandoor is the King and I of Indian restaurants: big, clean, and comfortable, with a vast menu, high quality, and reasonable prices. The weekday lunch buffet is simply the best dining value in town. It's hard to know where to start exploring Singh's wild menu of Indian delights, but go to a few lunches and you'll be on your way.

Tandoor of India, 376 Jefferson Road, 427-7080. Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (lunch) and 5 to 10 p.m. (dinner).

Food tip

"Relish" is one of the best restaurant names I've heard in years. Scott and Jan Stead of the Pultneyville Pickle have opened this sister restaurant overlooking Lake Ontario in Pultneyville. With all the great restaurants in Rochester, it seems implausible that Relish has the only certified sommelier (Jon Link; Michael Shaw is the chef) between Syracuse and Buffalo. Pultneyville is a quaint, historic village less than 30 minutes from Rochester. 4135 Mill Street, 315-586-4512

--- Michael Warren Thomas

Michael Warren Thomas can be heard weekends on WYSL 1040 AM. Details and archives available at www.SavorLife.com.

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