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 the crowd.