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More than Curry:

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Tandoori Bites
1620 South College Road
Across from Hugh MacRae Park
www.tandooribites.net

NICE SPICE: Tandoori Bites’ shrimp vindaloo can be ordered from mild to fiery, as can chicken tikka masala. Don’t forget to order the garlic naan. Photo by Bethany Turner.

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Ican remember as a child visiting the Bammi family in my neighborhood and being swept up by the “odd” smells permeating their household. Their daughter and I played together often, making up dance routines to no avail as Papa Bammi was in the kitchen whipping up a traditional Indian dinner.

I remember jars of pickled things aligning their cabinets, and sauces bubbling with turmeric, garam masala and cinnamon. When I asked my mother why we never cooked “like that,” she answered in one sentence: “I hate curry.”

If it weren’t for the Bammis, I may have always thought Indian food only meant curry. If it weren’t for impromptu talent shows in their living room, I may have never understood that, just like any Southern pot of collards, time and careful attention makes Indian cuisine delicious. More so, I may have never known that it couldn’t be mastered in a microwave as my mother once attempted.

Last year, after Indian eateries started popping up on College Road, memories of the Bammis flooded my mind. When I stepped into Tandoori Bites, the nuance of seasonings combed through the restaurant and transported me back to childhood. As an 8-year-old from small-town America, I couldn’t understand what it meant to witness first-hand the endless flavors of the world. But as an adult, it’s lovely to see Tandoori Bites bringing such complex and lavishly decadent appeal to Wilmington.
Each and every time I go to the restaurant, the meal starts with chile naan. This bread isn’t for the faint-hearted. The peppers are abundant throughout the chewy and soft dough; the burn can light up any ironclad palate and won’t cool it down without a few dunks in freshly prepared yogurt sauce.

Carb lovers are in for a treat, here. More than a dozen flatbreads can be chosen at Tandoori Bites. All of the naan is made fresh-to-order from the tandoor oven, and can be enjoyed plain, buttered, doused in garlic and/or seasoned. They also serve a variety of other breads, such as spinach parantha, kulcha, which is made from Maida flour, unleavened poori or chapati and wholemeal roti.

Tandoori’s shrimp vindaloo will hold the taste buds hostage days after eating it. A dish from the region of Goa, the sauce’s homey flavor consists of garlic at its base. It’s thick and rich, like that of an Italian grandmother’s marinara, but oh-so spicy, thanks to red Kashmir chillies adding heat (it can be ordered from mild to hot). The shrimp are shell-less and plump. Prepared to near perfection—every time!—they pop with each bite, releasing a natural sweetness, which pairs divinely with the spice of the sauce, the soft potatoes and nuttiness of the Basmati rice.

A more subtle flavor index comes from Tandoori’s vegetable platter appetizer, which overflows with crusty and creamy textures. Spinach, cauliflower, potato and onion fritters offer a heartiness in the veggie pakora. The homemade cheese pakora rivals the texture of tofu and comes deep fried in an aerated chick-pea flour. The samosa—the Indian version of a fried dumpling—is a crisp pocket filled with pulpy potatoes and a green pea mixture. Every item on the platter tastes richer after bathing in sweet-and-tangy tamarind chutney.

Upon many visits, I’ve had the pleasure of poking and prodding through other dishes on Tandoori’s extensive menu. The chicken mushroom comes lathered in cream with fresh herbs and spices, including citrus-y coriander. In fact, the prevalence of coriander in Indian cuisine keeps me adoring it even more, which isn’t much of a surprise seeing as its cilantro leaves are my favorite herb.

Vegetables are again the true star in the Aloo Gobhi—cauliflower and potatoes cooked with onions, tomatoes and herbs, doused in spices but not swimming in a sauce. The balance allows the flavor of the vegetable to shine against earthy overtones. Fresh okra cooked with onions, ginger, tomatoes and spices makes Bhindi Masala unlike another vegetarian dish in town.

The Tandoori Bites Special Biryani can feed two easily. At least a few cups of saffron rice overflows against large shrimp, chunks of juicy chicken, lamb that could be less cooked (but, hey, I am one who likes her lamb a solid medium), vegetables and sliced almonds. The flavors meld intensely. Adventurous carnivores will find the addition of goat on the menu a lovely pleasure, too.

Lunches at Tandoori mostly consist of buffet feasts, wherein a little bit of everything can be enjoyed in one setting and for under $10. During the evening, an intimate, upscale experience can transform date night into something more exotic. Dark wood and lush fabrics in purples and oranges evoke a cozy getaway without the renewal of a passport. Recently added decals to the windows depict scenes from the homeland, adding yet again to its Far East other-world appeal. With a full wine and beer list, and screenings of Bollywood films behind the bar, Tandoori Bites has stepped up the foreign culinary game in Wilmington. It tastes like Papa Bammi’s in the kitchen.

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