Cafe Taj, McLean, VA

I used to go to Cafe Taj a lot back in the mid 1990s. Lately, my visits have tapered off to once every other year or so, and not just because I’m busy running around to every other restaurant in town.

This was the day the thermometer went over 100 degrees. I’d had a rough day following an even rougher night’s sleep, and I wanted comfort food. So I reverted back to my past and called Cafe Taj for my traditional comfort-food carryout meal.

I got some Vegetable Samosas ($4.49) for the ride back. Stuffed with potatoes and peas, these were enrobed in a very thick, wonton-like wrapper. The interior was brown due to the harsh, powdery spices used, and they just weren’t enjoyable samosas (usually, even “bad” samosas are good samosas; not in this case).

Saag Paneer ($10.95) was, I hate to say, a failure on all counts. The “fresh garden spinach” and “farmer’s cheese” the menu touts were neither. A side order of Raita ($2.95) was an enormous portion – served in what I believe was a sixteen-ounce styrofoam container. I asked for two sides of pickles, figuring I’d get two of those little tiny clear plastic tubs of them gratis; instead, they also came in those same, huge styrofoam containers for $2.95 each! I’ve never seen this much pickle in my life, and unfortunately, an entire container of them was discarded. That said, I believe this was my fault because I asked for “two sides of pickles,” so chalk that one up to diner error. The one highlight to the food was the Onion Kulcha ($2.95) which was just as well-cooked as I remember from the past.

So a lousy meal at Cafe Taj that was anything but comfort. The bright spot? Several customers were coming in to pick up carryout orders, and the gentleman behind the register was offering everyone a glass of ice water. A cynic might notice that it was right as they were being handed the check with the tip line left blank, but the gesture seemed good-natured and genuine, and this small act of kindness will be my takeaway from a dreadful meal which would have taken a back seat even to Delhi Dhaba.

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