Zeitgeist for starters, gemütlich for dessert

Posted in District of Columbia, Food by Arasmus on December 9, 2009

I had lunch today at the Taj Mahal restaurant on Connecticut Avenue in Washington DC. I love the Taj, even though it is not the best Indian restaurant in the city. Far from it in fact. My gratitude to the incredibly polite waitstaff chastens my descriptions. It may be sufficient, and sufficiently cryptic to say that any young man leaving the restaurant after a successful date should immediately marry the object of his affections. For the captivating charm of the Taj remains hidden to most. In short, it looks and feels like a hotel in Delhi in 1979. Or at least what I imagine such a place and time must have felt like. The timber laminate walls, the golden chandeliers, the red cloth napkins stuck in stout glasses. Its all so excellently retro, so precisely in accordance with my imagination. You’ve got to admire someone who stays out of the loop for so long that now they are back in it. Its a variety of chutzpah. It is perhaps odd for a non-Indian to say, or just odd to say, that the Taj to me feels gemütlich. Forgive me for reaching for words from foreign languages to adequately explain its poignancy, but English is simply insufficient to capture the meat of the matter. As I look around the second floor, my mind starts imagining the type of conversations that would have occurred in such a place at such a time; whispers of Kashmir, non-aligned nation foreign policy, third-path economic development, nationalization, the implications of Chinese-American detente, ridiculous eyewear. Despite the current much improved situation in India, the 70s in Delhi had their charm. I can say that with all the certainty of one who just arrived. Or maybe its just that looking back I know how things will turn out. Every hostage thinks of breakfast. There are not many places in America as honest and easily genuine as the Taj. Restaurateurs spend millions to convince me that I’m in an American steakhouse. I don’t think I say that just because I’m a foreigner in the US. I’ve been a foreigner in many countries and yet as such I’ve been blessed enough to feel the spirit of Japan’s ancient martial traditions in a kendo hall in Tokyo, the serenity of Thailand’s monasteries, the love of life in a Roman neighborhood, the bohemian carelessness of a Parisian dive. America is in such a rush that its ghosts can’t afford the rent. Ignorant reviewers describe the Taj as a dump. But there is a difference between a dump and a place of rest.