You often hear someone pipe up and say, “I don’t like Indian food” when the search for a place for dinner begins. I get that, because Indian food is intensely flavorful, exotically spiced and wildly colorful. Though that is exciting for many, the meat-and-potatoes crowd doesn’t care for it. (Again, I get that, though I will never understand the folks who say, “I don’t like chocolate.”)
Those of you who love Indian food will need no convincing to try Marigold Maison. I am also going to try to convince those who say they don’t like Indian food that there’s a new restaurant they will love.
I think it comes down to curry, a spice widely used in delicious Indian dishes. There is bad curry and there is good curry, just like there is bad pizza and good pizza. My contention is if you don’t like curry, you’ve only had bad curry. You should also know that there are loads of Indian dishes made without curry.
Indian food is the product of 8,000 years of conquests, invasions, colonialism and trade. There is an entire subcontinent of largely happy, brilliant and healthy people munching their way through life on veggies, breads, spices and meats – who wouldn’t want to be part of that?
It’s not just the ingredients and regional recipes at play at Marigold Maison; it’s also the methods of cooking. A clay tandoor, or tandoori, oven is used for baking breads and cooking meats with open fire and radiant heat. When I asked if they had one and if I could see it, they were delighted to take me into the kitchen (this never happens) and show me the oven at work. That kind of hospitality and willingness to share their delight in their cuisine permeates the entire warm, yellow-painted place. The marigold flower, central to Indian culture, is used in celebrations of life and is considered the herb of the sun.
Over the course of a couple of visits, I ordered the following:
Iced Masala Tea $4
(Cardamom, clove, cinnamon)
Normally, I wouldn’t write about a glass of iced tea; but this drink exemplifies the blend of exotic Indian spices that intensely flavors the food previously mentioned. The cinnamon makes it taste sweet despite the fact there’s no sugar, and the clove and cardamom (the third most-expensive spice in the world, I am told, after saffron and vanilla) give it body and fragrance. It’s a bottomless glass, so drink up!
Lamb Thali $15 (lunch menu)
(Lamb Curry and Lamb Saag)
After I order this platter, a sampler of many different foods, the inevitable question comes up: “Spicy or not spicy?” What my server wants to know is whether I would like some “heat” to this meal, so I answer, “Spicy.” Though I could go either way, I trust that the heat they add will only enhance the dish, not overpower it. I am amazed at how quickly it arrives and the sheer beauty of the presentation. There are eight items in shiny metal bowls, including a salad, dessert and two types of bread. So let’s dive in!
Let’s talk about the naan and papadum on the platter, which I use as utensils. The naan is a soft, flat bread baked on the hot, clay surface of a tandoori oven. Papadum is a thin, crispy cracker-like bread with seasonings like cumin and black pepper. Both are perfect for dipping in sauces or wrapping morsels of lamb. (I end up ordering an extra side of naan ($3) because I blow through all the naan and papadum that come with the platter.)
The lamb curry is a wonderfully prepared, traditional red stew with chunks of tender lamb in a sauce of tomato, onion puree, turmeric, coriander, fenugreek and a blend of ground spices called garam masala. There is some heat because I asked for it, but it does not hide any of the rich flavor of this wonderful dish. I use a spoon to fill naan with lamb and bring it to my waiting mouth. Occasionally, I also eat it with rice, but oh, that naan!
Another curried lamb just waiting to be eaten is a preparation called saag. Saag is a stew with a base of spinach, mustard leaf and collard greens that is just heavenly. Its texture, flavor and green color is as different from red curry as green chili is different from red chili in Mexican food. Again, I ask for heat, but not as much as the red lamb curry. It’s absolutely delicious, with a much softer texture. Perfect for dipping.
There is a beautiful serving of golden yellow lentil soup. It is mild, warm and soft on your tongue. To me, it is sort of a palate cleanser between spicy courses, but it certainly could be an entire meal.
There is also a small, refreshing salad with a citrus vinaigrette and lots of healthy goodies like seeds, tomatoes, quinoa and leafy greens.
Basmati rice sits in the middle of the platter. They’ve added some heat to the rice, too. It is beautifully prepared – soft and flavorful – and topped with a scattering of cooked peas. You can mix the rice with the lamb or eat it separately.
Much to my surprise, the platter comes with a little taste of gulab jamun, a little round ball of warm cake soaked in rose honey syrup. I confess that I don’t wait until I finish lunch to try it and discover its wonderfully delicate texture and sweet flavor. I manage to save half of it for the end of the meal.
Grilled Tandoori Wings $10
(Tandoori spice, marinated wings finished with tamarind chipotle)
These are among the best chicken wings I have ever had. Plump, juicy, large and sticky sweet with a beautiful char, you really couldn’t ask for more from this bone-in appetizer. There is some heat to these, like you would find in any buffalo wing. To those who say they don’t like Indian food, these wings will completely change your mind. Highly recommended.
Eggplant Bharta $15.00
(Whole tandoor-roasted eggplant cooked with onion, tomato, ginger and spices)
The moment I saw this on the menu, I knew it was for me. Despite my meat-loving genetic makeup, I am a sucker for roasted vegetables. Then comes the inevitable question: “Spicy or not spicy?” I choose not spicy tonight to see what it’s like – and it’s delicious. Set before me is a large serving of roasted eggplant with an equally large side of basmati rice.
Truthfully, two people could eat this. My plan is to take half of it home, but that doesn’t work out and here is why: As I mound this soft and savory concoction of roasted veggies onto my buttered roti, I just can’t stop eating it. I add some to the rice; but oh, that roti! Again, you can’t say you don’t love Indian food if you like roasted vegetables. This one doesn’t have curry or heat. It’s just comfort food – like a soft macaroni and cheese – only better for you.
The Marigold Maison is truly a treasure sandwiched (pun intended) between a Jimmy John’s and a Dickey’s BBQ Pit near Sprouts on the northeast corner of Cactus and Tatum. There’s an outdoor patio and bar, along with a large, warm and welcoming dining area. The staff are very pleasant, the service is quick and don’t forget to ask to see the tandoori oven. They say you should stop and smell the roses – and the first thing you smell at Marigold Maison is the wonderful aroma of the kitchen. Put this one on your list.
Roti $3 (add butter for $1)
Of course I added butter! You should know me by now… Marigold Maison’s roti is naan made with unbleached wheat flour. It’s delicious and cooked in the tandoori oven. You use it more like a utensil, like a tortilla, and less as a side. It’s great for dipping into all the different kinds of sauces that accompany entrees. I prefer the naan over the roti, but the roti is probably a healthier choice – especially if you skip the butter.
4720 E. Cactus Road Phoenix
Contact A. Noshman at