There’s no way to put this but bluntly: I don’t think some Louisville restaurants are is taking the Covid-19 pandemic as seriously as they should.
Why the worry? You probably saw the news item about eleven Louisville businesses that got inspection blasts from Metro Public Health and Wellness over the Fourth of July weekend for failing to follow Covid-19 safety guidelines.
This matters: When I’m deciding where to dine during this pandemic, I want to have some confidence that the restaurant’s management doesn’t slack off on health and safety.
But how can we find out? The Internet! It’s not difficult to gauge an eatery’s priority on health and safety from their website and social media. I had to browse past a half-dozen local restaurants that did not even mention pandemic precautions the other day before I landed at Taj Palace, an East End favorite.
“Order Online for Curbside Pickup,” invited a eye-catching orange button high up on Taj Palace’s web page. “Order for Delivery via Grubhub or Doordash,” it added, assuring us that curbside pickup is as close as a quick phone call.
I found all this profoundly reassuring, and once I clicked through to the online ordering page I was even more impressed. Clear and easy to navigate, it’s a technological dream.
Here’s how it works: Choose a dish, click its name, and you’ll jump to a new page offering a choice among five meats – chicken, lamb, fish, shrimp, or goat – five levels of spice, and special instructions. Check the price, add the dish to your cart, and go back for more. When you’re done, fill in your payment and contact information, add a good tip, choose your pickup time, even note the color and model of your car so they can find you out front. Yes, they did think of everything, and it shows again in the clear, complete email receipt and directions that shows up in your box moments later.
The extensive menu including 18 appetizers, soups, and salads from $4 to $14; a dozen meat entrees and 24 vegetarian entrees (all $11 to $15); 10 tandoori oven dishes from $12 (for chicken) to $25 (for lamb chops); and five biryani rice dishes from $12 to $16. A dozen Indian breads are $3 to $5, and a $10 bread basket sampler is $10. Side dishes, Indian desserts, and a short list of Indian beers round out the bill of fare.
We rolled up out front right on time and our food came out in sturdy foil containers sealed with cardboard tops, all carefuly packed in a brown bag, steaming hot and ready to go. It was still plenty warm enough to enjoy when we got it home and plated it 15 minutes later, and everything was delicious.
Aloo tikki chaat ($8), an Indian street-food favorite served as an appetizer, consisted of thick potato pancakes – flattened rounds of distinctly spicy mashed potatoes deep-fried to a golden crunchy crust – topped with a generous ration of tender chickpeas, spicy red and green chutneys and cooling thick yogurt, fresh tomato chunks, snipped cilantro, and a blanket of sev, Indian wheat noodles broken into tiny, crunchy bits.
Lamb jalfrezzi ($15), described on the menu as “assorted vegetables with mild spices,” could be described as a lamb-and-veggie stir-fry with plenty of sauce. Large bite-size chunks of tender, mild-flavored lamb were bathed in a rich, unctuous reddish-brown sauce loaded with long slices of onion and red and green bell pepper whose flavors had melted into the seductive sauce. Ordered mild but not extra-mild, it was warm but not at all fiery. It would be just right for someone who wants flavor but not extreme heat.
It came with a large container, at least six cups, of perfect, fluffy, dry basmati rice with every grain separate, dotted with small, gently aromatic seeds.
Another entree, bhindi masala ($12), pictured at the top of the page, offers a definitive response to anyone who thinks they don’t like okra. A dry curry with its roots in Punjab in far Northern India, it’s a simple but tasty dish of okra cut into short pieces, including the heads and tails, long-cooked with onions, tomatoes, and aromatic Indian herbs and spices until the flavors blend. Ordered hot (but not extra hot) it was deeply flavored and spicy enough to smack my taste buds around a bit, but I didn’t mind that.
A large round of garlic naan ($4), wrapped in foil for transportation, was soft and chewy, with good char marks from the tandoor, a sprinkle of fresh herb leaves, and a strong garlicky flavor from soft chunks of roasted garlic embedded in the bread. A quick run through the toaster oven restored appetizing crispness.
A small dish of yogurt raita ($2) offered a cooling antidote to the culinary fire, and mini-tubs of hot-and-spicy green cilantro chutney and sweet dark brown tamarind chutney made appealing condiments.
The ordering system automatically took 10 percent off my first order, saving me $4.10, although I felt a little guilty about that since in fact I’m a fairly regular customer.
A huge repast came to $39.11, plus an $8.60 tip.