If you should ever see me eating in an Indian restaurant, you will almost always see a dish of eggplant bharta ($12.95) on my table.
At Taste Buds of India, it begins with eggplant roasted in the tandoori oven. It's mashed, sautéed with onions and seasoned with, among other things, coriander, cumin, garlic and a bit of cayenne. Some tomato is in the mix, and the bharta is also liberally garnished with cilantro. I couldn't stop scooping it up with a folded piece of garlic naan ($3.95).
The same goes for another favorite, chana masala ($12.95): garbanzo beans and tomatoes seasoned with ginger, garlic, coriander and garam masala. I'd have no problem being vegan if all vegetables and legumes tasted this good.
Partners Amit Singh and Arvind Kumar opened the restaurant in May. They are hospitality veterans who've worked in India and, for the past five years, in the United States. It was their goal to open their own place, and they decided on Coral Springs because of the growing Indian-American population in the area.
The 75-seat dining room is painted bright orange. Bollywood videos play on the TVs. A young, knowledgeable staff work the room. Come here when you have time to linger over your meal.
While the menu is mostly traditional, we couldn't resist Taste Buds' lettuce wrap ($8.95): lettuce leaves served with a mound of chopped chicken that's been cooked in a tomato and vinegar mixture. It's South Asia meets Southeast Asia, and the result is surprisingly good, although the chicken would probably be even better wrapped inside naan or paratha ($5.95). The menu also offers a Caesar salad with chicken tikka ($8.95)
From the chaat section of the menu, we ordered samosa chat ($6.95): deep-fried pastry shells filled with potatoes, green peas, cashews and herbs. They're served with chana masala, tomato, onion and yogurt mint chutney. Every table gets a pickle tray that includes a wonderful tamarind chutney, perfect for dipping fresh, crispy papadum. A cool cucumber raita also makes its way to every table.
The huge menu includes a big selection of tandoori dishes, including lamb chops marinated in yogurt, garlic, ginger and spices. They are delivered to the table on a sizzling platter, fajita-style, with sliced onions and peppers. The chops are intensely tender, and had us picking up each bone so as not to miss a bite.
Taste Buds' special biryani ($18.95) is loaded with shrimp, chicken, lamb, potatoes, cashews and raisins. It's like an Indian casserole, with meat, rice and everything else you need in one splendid serving bowl.
We were particularly taken by the section devoted to Indian-Chinese food, a hybrid that is now one of India's favorite ethnic foods. Wok-tossed shrimp ($16.95) looked like Chinese food, with roughly cut scallions and peppers. Despite the soy flavor, it is definitely not the Chinese food that Americans know. It's also not quite Indian. I highly recommend giving one of these dishes a try. Drums of Heaven ($14.95) combines chicken wings with onion, pepper, ginger and an interesting hot-and-sour sauce.
Singh refers to his restaurant as Indian fine dining, and it's truly a big step up from many other Indian restaurants. There are tablecloths and cloth napkins. Water glasses are meticulously refilled. And I loved the gorgeous brass serving dishes, each filled with a different treasure from the kitchen.
7841 W. Sample Road, Coral Springs
Hours: Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday ($12.95 lunch buffet Saturday-Sunday)
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Moderate-expensive
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot