You would expect a place called Clay Oven to have a pretty good version, since a tandoor is a clay oven, and Clay Oven's version ($9.95 for a half bird) is exemplary, very tender and juicy, with the requisite reddish pink color (from the seasoned yogurt marinade), presented on a sizzling iron platter with slivers of onion and quartered lemons.
But we were pleased too to find tandoori chicken meat turning up in a dish called chicken makhai ($10.95): chunks of boneless flesh swimming in a voluptuous, spicy sauce very similar to that of chicken tikka masala. The restaurant offers this latter preparation too ($11.95), the only difference being ... well, we couldn't really detect any difference. If you're concerned about the heat factor, incidentally, you needn't worry, since the kitchen will tune the food's fieriness to your specification.
Vegetarian dishes, as is typical at South Asian restaurants, are more than sufficient if you are a shunner of flesh. Saag paneer ($8.95) struck us as unusually and agreeably creamy, with a heavy allotment of white cheese, while chana masala ($7.95) chickpeas cooked in a spicy gravy was rich in said gravy, which helped allay any sense of dryness. (Chickpeas can be chalky.) Rice, of course, is offered to help capture the sauces of all of these dishes, but the breads work just as nicely, from a simple, well-blistered naan ($1.95) to a whole-wheat chapati ($1.50) glistening with oil.
Some of the humblest of dishes were among the most memorable. A cucumber salad ($2.75) turned out not to be a yogurty raita (though raita is available) but instead a heap of peeled coins sprinkled with salt and curry powder. And mulligatawny soup ($3.50), a hearty combination of shredded chicken and rice, was Soup Naziworthy, though served in a dainty little bowl. Ordinarily I might have hoped for a slightly bigger serving, but the world is not ordinary in the wake of Thanksgiving. So: two cheers yet again for little bowls of soup, and a dessert menu (of such usual suspects as rice pudding and saffron ice cream) from which one can abstain with a clear conscience. *
Lunch: daily, 11 a.m.3 p.m. Dinner: daily, 410 p.m.
1689 Church, SF
Beer and wine