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Give us more spice, Taj — we can handle it

Visiting an Indian restaurant is often a gamble.

Will the restaurant offer deliciously spicy, make-your-eyes-water cuisine, or offer safe, Americanized versions of dishes?

Unfortunately, it turned out to be the latter on a recent visit to Taj Indian Cuisine at 31 Water St. in Ashland.

My husband and I had our kids in tow on our visit. Sometimes I'm tempted to outfit them with T-shirts that say, "We grew up eating Indian food. We can handle it."

We asked for food at about 7.5 on a 1-to-10 hotness scale, but received what we consider a level 3 on the organic chicken tikka kabab ($19) and organic chicken tikka masala ($17).

Chicken tikka kabab has boneless, spiced chunks of chicken cooked in a traditional charcoal-fired tandoor oven. Taj Indian Cuisine used high quality, tender chicken delicately seasoned with spices and lemon, but the dish lacked a spicy kick.

Chicken tikka masala features chunks of boneless chicken in a spicy, creamy, vermilion-colored sauce, but also lacked the heat we desired.

The entrées did come with a generous, heaping bowl of perfectly cooked basmati rice.

For our family of four, we ordered two orders of garlic naan ($4 per order). The Indian flatbread came with just the right amount of charring from the grill on the bottom and was sprinkled with garlic and parsley. The eight triangles of naan, bowl of basmati rice and two chicken entrées were enough for our family without leftovers.

Service was somewhat spotty at Taj Indian Cuisine. Water glasses were on our table, but nobody filled them until I filled my own from a water pitcher on a nearby serving table. Not receiving water in the beginning may have been a holdover from the last two summers of drought, when many Ashland restaurants helped conserve water by serving water only upon request.

Our drinks and food came relatively quickly. I had chai tea, which can take a while to receive from other Indian restaurants, but which arrived without delay at Taj Indian Cuisine.

However, no one came by to see whether we needed refills on our drinks during our meal. As a fair test of the wait staff, I had my son perch his empty soda glass in a highly visible place at the edge of the table, but that still didn't prompt a server to come. We were asked whether we wanted more drinks only when we requested the check.

Taj Indian Cuisine is making a big effort to cater to the increasingly restrictive dietary needs of today's diners.

It offers gluten-free versions of naan on its menu. (We heard wheat-averse diners at another table ask what kind of flour was in the naan.)

The restaurant also features many organic ingredients and vegetarian options, including organic tofu masala ($14), chana masala with garbanzo beans cooked in onions, tomatoes and spices ($13) and aloo gobi with cauliflower, potatoes, garlic, ginger and spices ($13).

Taj Indian Cuisine is open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a lunch buffet that features a wide array of offerings. It opens again in the evening from 5 to 9 p.m.

Call 541-488-5900 or visit www.taj-indiancuisine.com.

— Vickie Aldous

Chicken tikka kebab, chicken tikka masala and garlic naan are among the offerings at Taj Indian Cuisine in Ashland. Mail Tribune / Vickie Aldous