Zach Bell, Yale University
The diner holds a coveted place in American culture. Open from the
earliest hours of morning to past a reasonable man’s bedtime, diners
serve casual food for people who just want a place to sit and eat.
Joints like the Olivette Diner and Steak and Shake carry strong memories for me of biscuits and late night burgers past.
Walking the streets of New Haven, Connecticut I did not expect to
find a steel diner on the corner of Chapel and Howe, street lights
glinting off of its polished metal exterior. The interior was
polished too, steel, chrome, and mirrors wall to ceiling. For a moment I
was transported back to St. Louis, waiting for my chocolate shake and
coffee… until I heard the sitar music. The Indian restaurant Tandoor
occupies that steel can of a diner, a trailer with samosas that in
appearance does justice to the original hotspots of Americana.
Cardomom and curry scented the air and I ordered vegetable tikki,
chicken patiya, and tandoori roti in curious bewilderment. I faced a
serious case of cognitive dissonance; I should not be eating vegetable
tikki in Steak and Shake! I mean, Tandoor! I mean, diner?
The food was fine in itself, nothing special, vegetable paste fried
in chickpea batter, pleasantly spicy chicken in a mango derived sauce,
tender whole wheat flatbread. The menu, style of food (North Indian),
and price range is similar to ninety percent of the Indian restaurants I
have eaten in. The only aspect of Tandoor that stands out is the diner
factor. They try to serve formal Indian food in a diner! The novelty of
the setting amused me, but also prevented me from taking the food
seriously. Tandoor takes its food as intensely as every other Indian
restaurant in New Haven, but the steel walls speak of a more casual
time. The casual diner juxtaposed with formal Indian food evokes a
discordant note. Eating in a diner, I don’t want Zaroka’s (another New
Haven Indian restaurant) chicken patiya, I want the equivalent of Indian
diner food. I want to feel casual, relaxed.
Tandoor fails to use the power of it’s unique decor. Instead it tries
to be just like every other Indian restaurant, and succeeds to a
certain degree. Yet, I still feel disappointed with Tandoor. Even though
the food was just as good as Zaroka or India Palace, Tandoor could be
so much more. It could be unique, taking a symbol of American culture
and transmuting it into a haven for ultra-casual Indian cuisine. Instead
Tandoor takes the beaten path, and as a result, fails to stand out from