I say there's at least a symbolic connection between those two stories, but my friend Dixie doesn't think so. "Size is so overrated," she said one night when we were dining at the eight-month-old Taj Palace Restaurant. That same moment, she forked a stubby little lamb seekh kabab sausage from a steaming metal platter in the center of the table we shared with Franklin and Cookie. "It's not what you've got. It's how you use it."
I wasn't sure if she was talking about nukes or knobs, but it was odd to see her waving around that 4-inch spicy sausage to make her point. Dixie thinks that most Americans are obsessed with size, whether it's cars, houses or the portions of food they eat. It's true, in Kansas City at least, that most restaurants aren't stingy when it comes to heaping dinner plates with food. That goes for meat-and-potatoes joints as well as ethnic restaurants. No one can say that Taj Palace owner Sangeev "Harry" Kumar is shorting his patrons the dinner portions are ample, to say the least. A kicky seekh sausage may be less than a mouthful, but you get a lot of them on that sizzling metal plate, all smothered in soft sautéed onions and green peppers.
The meat wasn't the only thing smothered; perhaps because there weren't very many tables in the dining room on that chilly Tuesday night, Harry Kumar frequently loomed over us, adorably cheery and a bit larger than life. As he brought out cups of hot masala chai for us to drink, he explained that he had been the manager of Great India, the previous Indian restaurant in this location. He ran the place for six years, he said. When the owners of Great India decided to get out of the business, Kumar took over the lease, painted the walls a creamy-tan shade of chai, gave the joint a deep cleaning, and hung an embroidered tapestry of an intertwined couple near the front door.
"Is that Krishna in the tapestry?" Dixie asked, pointing toward the entrance.
"No," Kumar said, beaming. "It's Shah Jahan, the emperor who built the Taj Mahal, with his wife, the Mumtaz."
The embroidered couple look like they're on the verge of having mad-hot sex. On a less sexy note, the chai that Kumar had brought us the soothing and spicy milk tea so beloved in India was disappointingly bland. Dixie, who loves chai and has sipped it all over the globe, thought this brew tasted slightly chalky and needed more cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.
A more potent chai is supposed to have digestive benefits, which might have come in handy after I'd gone overboard on the fried samosas and pakoras on an appetizer platter. I'd managed to put away one pakora, two samosas and most of the wedges of pillowy naan, which I'd snapped out of the bread basket and slathered with cool mint chutney, head-clearing onion chutney, or syrupy-sweet tamarind sauce.