Friday, March 30, 2012


Simply called Taj, this amazing Indian restaurant is located near Wal-Mart, at 310 S. Walton Blvd., in Bentonville.  It’s in an orange building, so you can’t miss it.  Very quickly, this is what fans of Indian food  in Northwest Arkansas have been waiting for:  authentic Indian food prepared fresh, and served in a pleasing atmosphere.  The vegan and vegetarian options are abundant.  Whether eating off the menu, or the buffet, expect to pay about $14-$15/person with the tip.  And yes they even have delivery.

My wife and I both love Indian food, which we realize is not the case with everyone.  Until the last couple years, Indian restaurants have been almost non-existent in Northwest Arkansas and even Southern Missouri.  And the ones that have existed have been so pathetic as to not deserve comment.  So it is with a sense of relief that we look at the Urbanspoon reviews for Taj one day and see that they are 95% positive.  It’s hard to get a score that high on Urbanspoon without being very, very good. 

We first tried Taj on my birthday, when we were prepared to order off the menu and spend a little money.  We started with the samosas for an appetizer, along with tomato and cilantro chutney dipping sauces.  A samosa is a triangular pastry filled with potatoes, onions, peas, coriander and lentils.  They can also be made with chicken or lamb, but they are generally meatless appetizers at Indian restaurants.  Here they are very tasty.  We are impressed.  We have had samosas many times, and view them as a harbinger of the quality we can expect from the main course.

For the main course, I get the Mattar Paneer (Indian style cheese and peas in sauce) and my wife orders the Butter Chicken.  We both order our dishes medium hot (3 on a scale of 1 to 5).  Mine is spicier than I would ideally prefer, but my wife loves hers.  I will try a spicy of 2 next time, since I do like my food a bit spicy.  Since we are treating ourselves, we decide to order our meals “Thali” style, which is to say with an assortment of smaller accompanying dishes to make a complete meal.  You receive rice, dal (yellow lentils in sauce), sambhar (soup), papad (chips), cucumber raita (a cool dipping sauce), the dessert of the day and the curry of your choice.  Everything is very good, but we end up taking so much home!  If you don’t want so much food, you can order your meal “a la carte.”  Here this means that you receive only the entrée, and a serving of rice.  Whichever you prefer, order the Naan bread.  It’s only $1.50, and makes an amazing compliment to virtually any Indian meal.  If you want to make things a bit more interesting, try the Onion/Paneer Kulcha—fresh Naan stuffed with onion and grated paneer (Indian style cheese).

We did try the buffet on Saturday noon, and it was amazing.  In fact, I think we preferred this to the meal we had.  I can’t identify all the dishes on the buffet, but there are several vegan and vegetarian options.  One can sample a little of many types of sauces and curries over rice, until finding just the right combination.  I know that we had Dal (yellow lentils in sauce).Of course, there is all the Naan bread you can eat, as well as dessert.

Friday, March 2, 2012

P.F. Chang's China Bistro

Located in the Pinnacle Hills Mall, at 2203 S. Promenade, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro can be readily identified by the life size horse statue in front of their establishment.  If you miss that, there is always the tantalizing smell of garlic wafting through the air.  Since many major cities have one, P.F. Chang’s is not indigenous to Northwest Arkansas.  But it has food and atmosphere to rival the better Chinese restaurants in the area, and it provides a welcome alternative to the proliferation of Chinese buffets.  It is also VERY vegetarian friendly, with numerous vegan friendly options and even a gluten free menu.

The night that we come we are seated after a brief wait, by a friendly greeter gentleman that we never see again.  The waitress arrives shortly and we order vegetarian lettuce wraps for an appetizer.  The vegetarian lettuce wraps are very tasty.  We have ordered them over and over again without being disappointed.  Vegetarian lettuce wraps consist of baked tofu, diced and mixed with spices.  You scoop the mixture into lettuce shells, and eat the filled shells like a sandwich.  Though my wife is a carnivore, she eats the lettuce wraps with glee.  If you order them with a side of brown rice, they can serve as an entrée.  You might also want to order another appetizer to complement them.  Sichuan-style asparagus is one of my favorites.

As opposed to salt and pepper on the tables, P.F. Chang’s has bottles of vinegar, spicy oil and soy sauce.  They also provide hot mustard and hot sauce.  And the waiters and waitresses provide free demonstrations in how to mix them together. 

P.F. Chang’s has four items on their vegetarian menu proper:  the Coconut Curry Vegetables, Buddha’s Feast (steamed or stir-fried vegetables over brown or white rice), Ma Po Tofu and Stir-Fried Eggplant.  The Coconut Curry Vegetables is a rich and sensuous dish, and I reserve it for special occasions when I have earned the calories.  Buddha’s Feast is a lighter dish that can be ordered with baked tofu, a low calorie alternative to the crispy fried tofu in the Coconut Curry and Ma Po Tofu dishes.  According to Calorie Lab, the Coconut Curry Vegetables has 950 calories, of which 567 are from fat.  The steamed Buddha’s Feast has 200 calories, while the stir-fried Buddha’s Feast has 340 calories.  The baked tofu would add to the calorie totals of each.  By the way, all the vegetarian dishes are vegan.  I have, however, ordered vegetarian fried rice with baked tofu on occasion, and I assume that this has egg in it.  Tonight I decide to ask for somethinng a little different.  I ask the waitress if the chef can make the Almond and Cashew Chicken with tofu instead of chicken.  The chef has no trouble obliging me, though the dish comes overflowing with tofu.  There are very few vegetables, almonds or cashews.  I am still happy with the dish, just not echanted by the broccoli forest. 

If you were wondering, my wife usually orders the Chang’s Spare Ribs.  She absolutely loves this dish, which comes with a very unusual cole slaw to tempt vegetarians.  Tonight though, she opts for the Wonton Soup.  She is absolutely delighted with it.  As you can see from the photo, it's a meal in itself!
The atmosphere is dark and romantic, with a few prized booths for special occasions.  Oftentimes there is a 45 minute wait on Friday nights.  Since we had a Border’s bookstore right next door, until it closed recently, we never found the wait very annoying.  You can also order a drink and sit at the bar, though we have rarely done this.  We did have the best lime margarita we had ever tasted at P.F. Chang’s.

In general we spend $25 to $30 on dinner, which I realize must come as a complete shock to anyone reading this in New York or Los Angeles.  Since I know that people outside Northwest Arkansas are now following my blog on Twitter, I assume that some of you will want to try P.F. Chang’s in other cities.  My wife and I have tried P.F. Chang’s in Tulsa and St. Louis as well, and found them very comparable in quality to the one in Rogers.  The prices are also comparable, but obviously this would not be true everywhere.  In all, P.F. Chang's is a restaurant that come highly recommended for their food, atmosphere and service.  The prices are reasonable.  But be prepared for the wait.