Tangra Masala - 87-09 Grand Ave., Elmhurst, Queens
Hot and sour soup, chicken pakoras, Manchurian tiger prawn sizzling platter, rosewater ice cream, two Snapple iced teas
I’ve wanted to go to Tangra Masala for months, but the prospect of riding the subway for almost an hour each way always daunted me. So laziness (and a consistently hectic schedule) trumped curiosity weekend after weekend, until I finally couldn’t resist any longer. MTA delays and stalled trains be damned, the lure of sampling the mysteries of Indian-style Chinese food were just too strong. And now that I’ve had my taste, I’d be willing to walk out to Elmhurst for a second meal.
Much like Taverna Kyclades (see Mar. 6) or Sripraphai (see Feb. 5, Jan. 8) , Tangra Masala is doing its outer-borough address proud, providing exemplary ethnic food at an affordable price with minimal fanfare. You can tell just walking up to any of these restaurants, with their humble awnings, no-fuss interiors, and exotic smells wooing you inside.
Tangra Masala stands out though because of its unique hybrid of Chinese and Indian. The staff is all Chinese and the clientele is almost universally Indian. The meat is Halal in deference to Islamic culture. The menu is predominantly something you’d recognize from a takeout Chinese joint, but the number of stars indicating “hot and spicy” makes it look more like a planetarium.
I started with the hot and sour soup, which was by far the best version I’ve ever had. With so many layers and complexities to the spices, I finished off the large bowl greedily. It bore some resemblance to the more generic Chinese version, but only in the way a Van Gogh compares to a Kincaide.
The next course, the chicken pakoras, was similarly stratospheric. These deep-fried fritters seemed daunting when a large plate of eight arrived on my table, but biting into the first, I pondered, in classic TV-style, if eight was enough. The chicken inside was deliciously tender, contrasting well with the rocky fried texture outside. I'm not sure what the other elements of the filling were (chickpeas?) but they were equally soft and addictive.
From here, I went onto the Manchurian tiger prawn sizzling platter, which was wonderful if mildly disappointing after the heights the previous courses had scaled. For one thing, the dish only consisted of about eight shrimp and a bowl of rice, which at $13.95 seemed expensive in comparison to other prices. Still, the enlivening cilantro sprinkled liberally over the shrimp and the other seasonings subverting notions of boring brown sauce left little room for complaint. I haven’t tried many things cooked Manchurian-style before but after trying the tiger prawns, I’d be very interested in having the goat next time.
Reluctant to cap my gastronomic odyssey, I prolonged the meal with a little dessert. Again, like its Queens counterparts, Tangra Masala disappoints in this department, offering a few choices more out of obligation than desire. But from the available options, the rosewater ice cream seemed like the best palate-cleanser to end on. The two bright pink scoops they brought over were packed with raisins and various nuts, which made for some interesting if not particularly inspiring flavor combinations. But honestly, after the amazing dishes that came before, they could’ve served me a Pez in a dog dish and I would’ve walked out already eager to return, already plotting another long ride on the R, already fantasizing about what other secret magic Indian-style Chinese food may hold. 9/10
From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out
- Name: Lonesome Hero
Saturday, March 26, 2005