July 17 2015 06:10 PM

Unique business park eats in Miramar light industrial hell

Two meat two veg and rice combo 2
Two meats, two vegetables and rice combo
Photo by Michael A. Gardiner

Sports commentator Jim Rome has the catchphrase "Have a take and don't suck."  But when it comes to Punjabi Tandoor (9235 Activity Road, Suite 111) in Miramar, it's strangely difficult to form a definitive take.

It is no accident that for more than two years of writing for CityBeat, I have not written up an Indian restaurant, until now.  While I love the flavors and enjoy the cuisine, it is not one I cook frequently. I appreciate it but don't know it firsthand.

Punjabi Tandoor might not have been an obvious choice for my first Indian review, situated as it is in Miramar's low-rise, light-industrial business park hell. The space would more likely figure to house a sandwich joint or taco shop. And yet it might just be those precise circumstances that combine to make Punjabi what it is, with its crowded, almost cultish following.  

Let's be clear about what Punjabi Tandoor isn't: a great restaurant. It also is not a bad one. Perhaps the best summary of the place is that it's maddeningly inconsistent. Sometimes the food is complex and multi-layered.  Sometimes it seems simple and overly creamed or like it sat too long in a steam table.

Take, for example, the mushroom masala. On one trip the mushrooms were flaccid—even difficult to distinguish from a canned product. On another trip they were toothsome and perfect, the peas bright and sweet and the sauce savory, complex and deep without overpowering the mushrooms. I would happily eat that mushroom masala every day of my life.

The lamb rogan josh was another good choice featuring tender chunks of lamb in a sauce that was a bit spicier than its creamy appearance suggested. The thing that makes this dish is the precisely layered ground spices, some aromatic and some hot (though not the searing heat of Southern Indian chiles). The lamb was one dish that was excellent every time I went.  

Chicken makhani (butter chicken), a classic Punjabi dish, was less to my liking. While marinating chicken in yogurt and soft spices added something to the buttery flavors it just seemed like a long drink of butter. Saag paneer—another Punjabi dish—was better, light and fresh with a hint of lemon brightening the flavor profile.

Punjabi Tandoor's presentations were crude: rice plopped on a compartmentalized container with each of the dishes dumped, side-by-side, running into each other. Strangely, though, it was oddly attractive and seemed to capture some of what the place was about. It was a kind of beauty one does not expect to find in industrial park hell.  

While Punjabi Tandoor's food is neither good nor bad enough for me to form a definitive take, at the end of the day it brings something unique to the industrial park. Whether the food was good, or less so, it somehow still had character. Hopefully that's enough of a take not to suck. 

Write to michaelg@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com. Michael blogs at www.sdfoodtravel.com You can follow him on twitter at @MAGARDINER


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