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Textbook tandoori 

Faint flavors and tepid seasonings translate to Cooking for Dummies cuisine at India's Oven

A Montessori group of children, parents and teachers were picking through plates of tandoori chicken, naan bread and Mulligatawny soup at two long tables when we entered India's Oven for lunch a couple of weeks ago. The eight adults were running trips between the steam table and the kids. They looked a little anxious. The Montessori-trained students, about two dozen of them, displayed a cool, worldly air, as if curried veggies and spinach with chickpeas in Marietta were no big deal.

They aren't -- not when the $6.99 buffet components are as toned-down and tepidly seasoned as found on this spread. The watery Mulligatawny (the word is derived from "pepper water") entirely lacked spicy bounce or bite. Curried chicken, tandoori chicken and a stew of potatoes, peas and cauliflower were prepared along the same offend-nobody lines. Aside from a melange of mildly gingery mixed vegetables and a mixture of spinach and chickpeas that seemed to have only one flavor (canned spinach), every other warm, wet item reminded me of dishwater. Naan bread, often noted for its buttery, biscuity, luscious interior, might as well have been grilled-to-parchment flour tortillas. Rice pudding was moderately OK -- though the phrase "convenience product" crossed my mind.

What does this kind of Dick-and-Jane-for-Dummies cooking do for adventurous, impressionable students? Nothing, not unless they're also being taught that "Survivor" is high dramatic art and that MTV is a source of great music. In that case, why take them anyplace but McDonald's and Taco Bell?

Indian curries and soups are among the wonders of the culinary world. They don't have to blow out the roof of one's mouth in order to taste right. They can be tame and yet authentic.

Hoping to experience a range of the best India's Oven might have to offer, I went back the next week, and at night. I ordered an appetizer platter and one of two chef's specialties from the menu. I have to say that some of this food was better than the buffet.

Among a half-dozen appetizers in the $6.95 starter kit, crisp, tasty onion pakoras stood out as possessing flavor and character. Vegetable samosas (turnovers), though bland, were acceptable.

Fish tikka, a $15.95 blue plate, included six pieces of mildly seasoned, baked salmon on grilled onions and broccoli, a toss of curried mixed vegetables and a rice and green pepper pilaf. The fish was sweet and fresh tasting, the vegetables much better than anything encountered at lunch.

Given that the place was doing little business on both my visits, service is upbeat and swift. Decor is storefront ethnic.

How did I find India's Oven? Somebody at the office recommended it. "Great!" read the note on the takeout menu deposited in my mailbox. The somebody shall remain nameless.

India's Oven shares a parking lot with the highly regarded Williamson Bros. Bar-B-Q. Montessori powers that be will more wisely lead their charges over there to experience what authentic seasonings and spices can do to and for relatively plain, humble food.

elliott.mackle@creativeloafing.com

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