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Cookie, meanwhile, was getting busy with a sausage. She cooled down with mango lassi, a sweet fruit-and-yogurt drink traditionally blended to the consistency of a delicate milkshake. She loved it and could barely take the straw out of her mouth. Dixie, though, was once again unimpressed. "It's more about the mango than the yogurt," she said.
The plate of scrumptious sausages was one of six dishes listed under the title Clay Oven Weight Watchers Specials. These "diet plates" are all cooked in the white-hot tandoori oven and served with bread instead of rice. I felt totally guilt-free ordering dinner from this collection, even though I wouldn't categorize it as light fare.
For her own dinner, Cookie ordered lamb makhani, medium-spicy, in a gingery garlic cream sauce that was positively not Weight Watchers approved. She piled the tender cubes of meat over a heap of basmati rice. Franklin isn't a special fan of Indian food, but he does get occasional cravings for butter chicken, and he gave thumbs up to the Taj's version of this popular Northern Indian concoction, with hunks of succulent bird breast blanketed in a rich, thick butter-tomato sauce.
Dixie approved of her dal, a glossy black-lentil stew with kidney beans, ginger and tomato in a butter-cream curry sauce. "It tastes very good," she said, before griping that it looked like "the Indian version of refried beans."
She didn't convey any of her criticisms to Kumar, despite his frequent visits to our table. ("He's too sweet, and he's trying so hard," she whispered.) Not that he would have had a chance to hear her Franklin never stopped bending his ear with suggestions for how to make the quiet dining room more lively. "You need to put in a flatscreen TV and show clips from Bollywood movies!" he said. "Just like the Bollywood Bistro in Independence! They have a disco ball, too!"
Kumar smiled wanly and nodded while Franklin carried on about hot Indian movie stars such as Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan the Brad Pitt of Mumbai and how a TV could really jazz up the joint.
"Come back for lunch sometime," Kumar told us. "We have a very nice lunch buffet."
Frankly, I prefer trolling a buffet to watching TV any day, and Kumar does set out a tasty array of mostly familiar Northern Indian fare: bright-red tandoori chicken, mildly seasoned chicken tikka masala, curry chicken aloo gobi, and the minced-lamb-and-peas dish called keema matter. (When folded into a hunk of soft naan, it looks just like an old-fashioned Nu-Way loose-meat hamburger.)
I loved Kumar's chili chicken, in which pieces of slightly fiery chicken breast float in a delicious sort of cabbage stew that's bright-yellow from turmeric.
I noticed a lot of scrubs-wearing employees from KU Medical Center, including a large contingent of Indian-born doctors, sharing tables and returning to the steam tables for one plate of food after another. I did a little nuclear-scale damage on the buffet myself, tasting everything and returning for seconds and thirds. I decided to pass on just one offering: gulab jaman, which are spongy pastry balls floating in a vat of honey syrup. I knew from past experience that if I devoured more than a couple of those deceptively small orbs, they would expand in my stomach.
Eating too much can be a danger at any buffet, but at the Taj Palace, gorging on all that good stuff can absolutely ruin one's coltish figure not that I have one. Still, what the hell: Size is so overrated.