Please, Sir, I'd Like Tandoor

A novel idea: eat great Indian food downtown while sitting down.

TANDOOR INDIAN KITCHEN
All-you-can eat Indian buffets are a ubiquitous part of urban office-drone life, and they mostly follow a predictable pattern of mediocrity: damp naan, bland curry and bright pink, bone-dry chicken that may or may not have ever seen the inside of a tandoor. If you wanted good tikka and paneer you had to schlep it over to Beaverton or eat standing up at the India Chaat House cart.

No longer. Ramesh Rajendran, a former cook at Hillsboro's extraordinary Chennai Masala, opened Tandoor on the temporarily inconvenient corner (it's been under heavy construction for over a year) of Southwest 4th Avenue and Oak Street in June, bringing bright, spicy, all-you-can-eat light to the dismal lives of hundreds of cube-dwellers—for only $8.99.

Here the dosas are divine, the naan is crisp and the tandoori chicken is both moist and of a believably natural hue. A massive flatscreen plays Bhangra videos at a reasonable volume. Rajendran's vegetables are fresh and he swaps out the steam trays often enough that nothing in the buffet gets soggy. It is a near-perfect workday lunch.

Dinner is a bit iffier. Some of the more enticing items—dosas and fish—on the menu are rarely available, and on a recent visit the shrimp saag ($11.95) was bland and overcooked. At night the stained hung ceiling and granite tables implode into a sort of anti-ambience. Stick to the basics, though, and you're golden: Everything tandoori is delicious, the enormous plates of biryani ($7.95-$9.95) are light and well spiced, and the vegetable samosa ($5) is not to be missed.

EAST INDIA COMPANY
Opened last December in the Medical and Dental Arts Building next to the downtown library, this subversively named restaurant is full of surprises, starting with the entrance. A narrow, generically decorated bar, visible from the street, opens into a large, high-ceilinged dining room with curtained, cushy white-leather booths and starched white tablecloths bathed in the glow of an enormous light fixture that bears an uncanny resemblance to the carousel in Logan's Run. The understaffed host station and corny, oversugary cocktail list suggest India House-style Westernization, but the mustard-heavy pickles ($2) will take your head off, and the leftovers from the enormous platter of fireytandoori murgh (chicken marinated in yogurt and cayenne served with onions and peppers, $16) will fill your fridge with an overpowering scent of woodsmoke.

There aren't very many misses on the lengthy menu. Three must-tries are the muchli ka tikka (tandoor-grilled, spice-encrusted seasonal fish, $21), the chana pindi (mysteriously delicious chickpeas, $12) and the sweet, creamy murg makhani ("butter chicken" simmered in tomato curry, $16). Don't skimp on the sides: the various flatbreads ($2-$4) come steaming fresh from the tandoor oven, and the chutneys and dhals are prepared with the same care as the entrees. Desserts are nothing to write home about, but the mango cheesecake ($5) is pleasant enough and does an excellent job of soothing your mouth after that tandoori chicken. And though the bill will be much larger than expected from an Indian restaurant, it's hardly beyond reason—you'll leave stuffed and happy for about $20-$25 per person.

EAT:

Tandoor Indian Kitchen, 406 SW Oak St., 243-7777, portlandtandoor.com. Lunch 11:30 am-2 pm Monday-Friday, dinner 5:30-9 pm Monday-Saturday. $ Inexpensive. East India Company, 821 SW 11th Ave., 227-8815, eastindiacopdx.com. Lunch 11:30-2:30, dinner 5-10 pm, happy hour 4-7 pm Monday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.