Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The new Tanjore Indian restaurant retains vestiges of the former occupant of 878 Massachusetts Ave.: the People’s Republik bar. (Photo: Tom Meek)

If you’re wondering what happened to Tanjore, the solid Indian restaurant on the backside of Harvard Square on Eliot Street by The Charles Hotel: Rumors of its demise are just that. Sure, it shuttered in 2020, but this spring the Tanjore name appeared on the building front that had been the old People’s Republik on Massachusetts Avenue between Harvard and Central squares. Last week, it made its soft opening; a grand opening is due in August.

The food is every bit as good as it was at the old Tanjore, which was always one of my favored spots for Indian cuisine despite a flat, sterile interior – and that’s definitely changed. Owners didn’t do much to reconfigure the old Republik, and the center standing bar is still there, stripped down and revarnished, with invitingly spare booths, banquettes and tables around the perimeter complemented by an array of TVs playing quirky cable curios and Bollywood videos; think of Diva, which used to be in Davis Square, and you’ll have an idea of the vibrant, amped-up vibe. It’s now a place one could opt to hang out and chat at, something the old digs didn’t lend themselves to.

The menu right now is limited, printed on computer paper. There’s no naan yet, just samosas, chicken momos, wings and curry dishes. The menu will grow, as I was told by extremely friendly service staff. Tanjore will be open 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. or 1 a.m. but will no longer host a lunch buffet. You can ask for things not on the menu too. 

On my visit, I had the veggie samosas and saag. The former are fresh and lightly fried, the exterior less of a shell and more like arancini. Most samosas are crunchy and hard by comparison. Inside, the potatoes and peas feel near steamed, moist, and perfectly spiced. Oddly the dipping sauce that came with was ketchup, which worked surprisingly well though I longed for a more traditional tamarind, green coriander or red chutney dip. The saag (a curry-spiced spinach sauce) is divine, almost smoky in its flavoring and low in the cream factor. It’s quite green and rich, and the chunks of chicken were tender and succulent. (You can also get a vegetarian version, with paneer, and perhaps other meats that are not on the menu.) The basmati rice sopped up perfectly the last flavorful daubs of saag. The pricing at Tanjore is pretty good for the buck, and they don’t charge extra for the rice – I get annoyed by that.

It’s a nice relaunch for Tanjore, and I look forward to the grand opening and exploring more.

Tanjore (878 Massachusetts Ave., Riverside)

Cambridge writer Tom Meek’s reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.