Chef Didar Singh on Royal Taj’s reincarnation as Maharaja
Last December, a new Indian restaurant opened in the spot once held by Royal Taj. While it occupies the same building, it is a very different restaurant, immediately striking in its elegant ambience. It’s filled with gorgeous pieces of Indian art and paintings, and a soothing soundtrack of traditional Indian music. Each plate at the table setting even has the restaurant’s logo emblazoned on it. “Presentation is everything,” head chef Didar Singh told us regarding the building’s updated look.
GT: You have an extensive menu of mostly northern Indian dishes. In particular, you offer quite a few vegan dishes.
Didar Singh: Yes. The more people that like vegan food, the more I like to do vegan food in my kitchen. A few are aloo gobhi mattar, channa masala, and jeera aloo—which is a little spicy, and has onion and tomato flavors. Our naan is vegan, too. We are trying to promote more vegan food.
One of your most popular vegan items is the appetizer, vegetable pakora. What is that?
That’s mixed vegetables like spinach, potato, cauliflower, onions. We use chickpea flour as our batter and it’s fried. It has a crispy texture. It’s a little bit fluffy around the vegetables. It’s like an explosion of flavors. You have to try it.
One of your curries is the jaz frazie. Tell me about that.
It’s medium spicy, with an onion and tomato gravy sauce, with carrots, bell peppers, potatoes and peas mixed in a with whatever you want, chicken or lamb. It’s not a runny sauce, or very thick, it’s in-between. It’s got a bit of spice, but when you eat it, you don’t feel it. It just blends right in.
A lot of people skip dessert at Indian restaurants, but you carry ras malai. Why should people try it?
It’s a cottage cheese patty which has a cardamom, almond flavor to it. It’s not rice pudding, but it’s a sauce similar to the rice pudding [kheer]. The ras malai takes four hours to make. The patty is boiled. It’s a long process. It’s very soft and spongy. The name ras means “sweet,” but it’s not too sweet, although sweet is its only taste, nothing else.
270 Soquel Avenue, Santa Cruz. 427-2666. PHOTO: CHIP SCHEUER