Indian Row In Malvern, PA
- FelafelBoy May 8, 2006 01:45 AM
Three very decent Indian restaurants on Rte 30 (Lancaster Avenue) within one mile of each other.
This review refers to food offered at the lunch buffet during the week.
I already knew how good Gateway to India and Himalayan were.
I was pleasantly surprised at how good the food was at Royal India, the first restaurant on the rte 30 strip of stores just as you turn on to the road from rte 29, heading east.
What is missing in the ambience is made up for in the variety and freshness of the food, and at the lowest lunch buffet cost of any similar restaurant in the area. There is a very large variety of foods - soup, a large salad and dessert bar, and a large variety of vegetarian and poultry and meat dishes. Even the rice pilau was very freshly prepared. This place's naan is the freshest I have had of any restaurant.
By the dessert table are free drinks - like Masala Tea. The day I was there, there was, in addition to the Masala Tea, free Mango Lassi.
A few areas in need of improvement - even during peak times, the trays of several entrees can remain empty for sustained periods of time. (If you are waiting in the buffet line for minutes, you don't want to have to stand by the trays for another 5 minutes for 2 or 3 dishes to be refilled.) I have been at this restaurant at other days where I experienced a lengthy delay for food being refilled. There needs to be better monitoring of the supply and faster replacement (as is done by restaurants like A Taste of India - at that restaurant, once a tray is nearly empty, there is almost always a fresh supply brought out).
One other troublesome item - because of the size of the restaurant and the positioning of the buffet tables, diners who are positioned near the buffet line can be surrounded by people waiting to gather their food. (Best to get a table far away from the line waiting to get their food.) If you go to this restaurant when it is not crowded, this is not a problem, but on a crowded day, you will think of returning at a less hectic time.
If you want to pay more money for a lunch buffet, but want a "fancier" and "less hectic" environment to eat in (earlier in the week is more relaxed at Royal India), Himalayan and/or Gateway to India may be better choices. Keep in mind that Gateway to India does offer a decent variety of dishes and a few extras, but its variety does not compare with that of Himalayan, Royal India, or A Taste of India. But you will be provided with the nicest ambience of all of them.
I'd rate Royal India a 10 (being the highest) for overall value, 8.5 for quality, 9.5 for freshness, 9 for variety, 6 for ambience (the inside is pretty dark!), 8 for helpfulness of food servers (they could use more help during busy time, but then again, for the price, you can't complain).
On this row, I'd rate Gateway to India as offering the nicest ambience with the most delicate flavored foods for its main entrees, Himalayan the best for overall features (relaxing ambience with large variety with adequate quality, though its soups do not compare with that of the two other restaurants), and Royal India as offering the best overall value for its selection and variety. I also liked the straightforwardness of the spice mixture of its lunch buffet entrees. (The chana masala is rather simply spiced and prepared - nothing fancy, but tasty.)Mildly spiced without excessive use of oil or fat. Sometimes there are Chinese inspired dishes with accompanying Chinese spices for those dishes.
Beware of going there on a Friday near noon - it is very crowded.
re: Miss Claudy
To the person who posted some time ago on the thread for "Amon's" (or "Ammon's) in Norristown, PA, as I mentioned, you have other choices in this area in case you can get down to King of Prussia, Wayne or Malvern, all about 10 to 30 minutes from the Norristown location - just head down 202 south and you will run into all of them (although you will have to get off on rte 29 and head onto rte 30 to get to the Malvern trio).
In King of Prussia and Wayne, you have a choice of Jaipur near the Acme, which I had a bad experience with for the lunch buffet, Desi Village which offers a large variety but for some reason seems to do better for catered events, A Taste of India, which many feel is among the best in this area for flavorful, rich and fatty sauces and sweets. Taj Mahal in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center in Wayne about five minutes from A Taste of India has added southern Indian dishes from what I have read. Haven't been to the Taj in years as the last time I was there the flavor on the food was much too mild.
For variety and flavor, you cannot go wrong with A Taste of India. Friday is very crowded at lunch time. Sometimes they feature specials, but in general, its main standy dishes are satisfying.
The trio of restaurants in Malvern offer a very nice alternative and feature some dishes not offered at some of these other restaurants.
From my previous experience at these restaurants, the ones that need the most work to catch up to the quality of the others includes Ammon's, Jaipur, and Taj Mahal.
It would be helpful to get reviews for Asian Indians who have been at these restaurants. By frequency of visits to these restaurants by Asian Indians, it seems that they frequent A Taste of India and Royal India the most. Himalayan is also frequently visited.
Keep in mind, that most of these restuarants focus more on northern Indian cooking. I think Gateway to India offers spices from another part of the country (not southern).
It would be helpful to have a restaurant goer whose native country is India point out the regional origin of the spice mixtures of these restaurants. My guess is that A Taste of India is more Punjabi. Royal India might be a combination of various regions. In summary, each of these restaurants presents different spice mixtures that will affect each visitor differently, including the intensity of the flavors. The preference for the intensity and flavor is subjective, but there is a certain combination that most will recognize as being artfully and tastefully created.
I posted a correction to my last post and after two days it still has not been displayed which is why I re-enter it here.
A line in my last post which read ...
"It would be helpful to get reviews for Asian Indians who have been at these restaurants."
SHOULD HAVE BEEN ...
"It would be helpful to get reviews FROM Asian Indians who have been at these restaurants."
Now for the latest ... I revisited Gateway of India, and I have two words ... The place needs to improve its desert selection, and ... the rest of the meal was MEMORABLE.
Outstanding soup - their vegetable soup is like none other I have had anywhere. A rich yellowing flavorful mildly spice puree with flavors I could not identify!
Large selection of entrees in their lunch buffet - chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken, bhindi masala (okra), channa aloo, tadka dal, pakora and potato fritters (with tamarind chutney), saap paneer, goat dish, salad bar, naan, dosa with stuffed spiced potatoes and mint chutney.
I am not sure if this is the restaurant's intention regarding the chicken dishes, but the chicken tasted like pure white meat that was emersed in a sauce or coated with seasoning vs. allowing a marinade to infuse its flavors. Not bad, but just a different way of serving such a chicken dish.
Very peaceful setting, soothing music, very professional and friendly servers. When you eat at this restaurant, you are aware of the experience of "dining" vs. the experience at some other restaurants that, while they may be good, provide a different "ambience."
If this restaurant had offered something other than the two deserts (kheer, which was very think and looked like boiled white rice placed in a bath of milk, and a custardy-type milk conconction filled with pineapple chunks), the meal would have been sublime. Providing mango pudding (mix yogurt with mango puree) or canned fruit does not require much extra labor. I have been at this restaurant several times before and each time their deserts have been subpar, especially as compared with all other restaurants. But considering the high quality of everything else, this will have to be overlooked.
Sorry for the mistyping. I normally do a check.
Not saap paneer as one of the food selections, but saag paneer!! Not yellowing soup, but yellow ...
Hope you got some laughs out of my typos!
More importantly, I hope you have a chance to go to Gateway to India. The place is easy to miss on Rte 30. The landmark to look for is a strip mall on the right side of 30 (going west), with the Staples store on the right side of the small plaza. There are a few other small plazas before it (one has the supermarket Clemens in it).
By the way, even though the day I went to the restaurant was a Wednesday, the place still had a large variety of entrees in their buffet. Just wish they would make a minimal effort to improve their desserts. I have requested they do so for over a year now!
I like the 5+ desserts they have at the Himalayan lunch buffet. I don't know the names of some of them, but I usually can't leave without trying all of them!
kheer (rice pudding w/ nuts & rosewater)
cheese balls in milk
some warm wheat/grain thing with honey (delicious)
fruit salad / yogurt
The cheese balls you refer to are called rasgulla (I think. Ras malai are somewhat similar. One is soaked in rose-flavored syrup, the other in a cream sauce). The "wheat'" balls you mentioned are the famous gulab jamun. A Taste of India sometimes offers deliciously sweet Laddus (chick pea flour sweet balls).
Royal India offers very decent Gajar halava (carrot pudding). Right amount of butter, cream, sugar, spices, and grated carrot consistency. A Taste of India offers a similar version, but it is much richer (more butter, cream, sugar, etc. - everything at ATOI seems more intense in taste and flavor)
It is a treat isn't it to finish off the meal at Himalayan with a variety of desserts? They really do have a nice variety. A Taste of India in Wayne excels at desserts, but they typically put them together in an even more artful way, i.e. sprinkling crushed green cardomon and saffron in its kheer.
I find that all too often kheer is just too thin and tasteless - just a combination of milk, rice, and sugar. If you have ever had kheer prepared by the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, you will know how good and richly flavored it can be.
By the way, the desserts at Royal India are not bad. Great variety there, too.
As I mentioned, Gateway to India really presents their desserts as an afterthought. Their kheer is nothing more than milk, rice, and sugar. Its custard is also very plain. With all the care they put into all its other dishes (and I can't say enough about their vegetable soup!!), it is just plain bizarre that they don't maintain the same level of excellence regarding their desserts.
I did rate Royal India highest for best value, but after eating at Gateway of India (after not having eaten there in one year), in this row of restaurants, I'd rate this restaurant tops for best quality for MOST of the dishes. (The bhindi masala was mouth-wateringly good, as was the tadka dal, and the saag paneer. The coating of the pakoras were better than I have had at other restaurants. Many restaurants I have been to don't seem to use chick pea flour. At this restaurant they do. The naan was not as good as that served at Royal India. Each restaurant excels at various things and that's why it's good to give the business to all of them!)
I look forward to get someone else's review of Gateway to India. Remember ... these restaurants tend to offer a greater variety later on in the week. The Wednesday I visited GTI, they offered a generous variety of dishes (except for the desserts). If you are fortunate, they will offer the vegetable soup when you visit!!
Credit to Gateway to India for offering a variety of desserts on my last visit - a choice of carrot cake and kheer.
Credit also for the quality of the entrees in the lunch buffet. At some Indian restaurants, the selections can be "filler" foods, meaning pretending to be a separate entree, but really more of a side dish. One restaurant in particular, more and more, has been using space that had previously been used for protein dishes with carbohydrate/starch side dishes. There is only so much starch that is healthy to eat.
At Gateway to India, each entree was satisfying in itself - this time, there was a combination of chick peas and potatoes in a sauce, tardka dal, a mixture of over 6 vegetables, spinach and corn, two different chicken dishes, and a lamb or goat dish. Along with the soup, breads, rice, and salad.
In a way, the benefit of the word not getting out about this place is that diners can eat in peace, as the place is not crowded for the lunch buffets.
Review of recent trip to Himalayan in Malvern.
Haven't been there in awhile. The restaurant is large enough and supported enough by customers for the place to offer a huge variety of food.
Decent salad bar and selection of chutneys though the tamarind chutney was bizarrely overly sweet.
Excellent tandoori chicken, decent chana masala (very plain, though, just chick peas in a sauce), and mediocre quality with other entrees in the lunch buffet. The sauce that was used for the chicken tikka masala was a bit on the tasteless side as compared to other restaurants I have been to. The Saag Paneer was like slop. Reminded me of the difference between amateurish cooking and professional. The saag panner simply had too much cream which overwhelmed the taste and presence of spinach. Its consistency was like slop. I don't know what other word to use for it. The paneer was decent, but I would not want to experience that dish again as prepared as it was. Its essence was light years away for the saag paneer one can get at the nearby Gateway to India, Royal India, and at Minar Palace (the current champion of Saag Paneer making) in Center City.
The vegetable soup tasted exactly like it had been poured out of cans. There was no taste of any spices associated with Indian cooking. Maybe the cooks (the word chefs will not be used in this context) thought providing such canned taste would appeal to Americans wanting a familiar taste from home (like from the Campbell's can).
The naan was very good. Very moist. Wish Gateway to India chef would come on down and taste the difference.
The breading from the pakoras were oily, reminding me of why some people stay away from deep fried food. The pakoras at Gateway to India had a cleaner drier coating that yielded a more flavorful content (the vegetable that the coating surrounded).
Himalayan on the day I visited had at least nine desserts, including a tray of fresh fruit consisting of small pieces of mango (ingenious size - it made it easy to pick up each section and consume the flesh in two or three bites), honeydew, and I think canteloupe. This was the real stuff, not some fake fruit simulation. Other desserts consisted of gulab jamun, halwa (tasteless, consisted of semolina and butter, no sense of spices, sweetener), and various dairy dishes. The kheer wasn't too bad - a bit on the thin side but did have some nice flavor to it. The custard dessert was like soup - they need to thicken it up.
Nice touch - each table gets a pitcher of water - a large pitcher. No need to have to find a server to get you more water.
So, in summary, with the large selection of dishes, you will find quality ranging from very good (tandoori chicken and naan) to average (potato and vegeatable dishes) to poor (soup, saag paneer). This restaurant has a lot of space to seat people and the day I was there there must have been at least one hundred people yet I didn't feel that people were on top of each other, and oddly enough, I noticed only a few times where there were more than ten people waiting in line to get to the buffet. The fact that the buffet has several sides to access food seemed to make a difference.
It will be awhile before I return to this restaurant as its dishes reminded me that other places prepare the food with greater intensity of flavor, but for those who want to sample a large variety of food, not be challenged by flavors and interesting spice combiantions, this will offer them a decent and affordable experience.
being new to indian buffets, i don't think i can provide the type of review you're looking for. however i work in the chesterbrook area and have been slowly going down the list. i'll compare as side-by-side as i can:
a taste of india (wayne).
dined there: friday @ lunch.
food: 10 | ambiance: 5 (nice @ night) | service: 9 (hard to get a refill on soda)
still my reigning favorite of the bunch, for a few reasons. one, they were my first. ;) two, the richness of the dishes (don't you talk to me about calories!!). i don't know the names of all, but the chana masala and the dal makhani (sp) are great, as is the orange-creamy one with ?i think? cheese balls. no idea what it is called, sorry. three, the efficient and friendly service - these guys are pros. four, the samosas - YUM (oh, and if you do sit-down service, make absolutely sure to order the onion and the garlic naan. there is almost nothing like it.). five - the sheer size of their weekend buffet; there is nothing like it. if you do take-out, make sure to tell them you want spice. it's just fantastic. (side note, a second location on rte 100 in exton will open shortly or has opened. just thought i'd put that out there.)
royal india (malvern).
dined there: today @ lunch.
food: 8 | ambiance: 10 | service: 10
first off, the canopy of bushes you walk under to enter are just spectacular. once inside, i think the ambiance is even better. i think it's a really beautifully designed restaurant. immediately the waiter sat us and pointed out the vegetarian dishes to me. then he brought piping-hot fresh naan to the table - which i think is the best naan i've ever eaten. the dishes, as you mention, aren't as creamy as a taste of india, but they can definitely be spiced up with that hot sauce. again, the orange-creamy vegetarian dish was my favorite of the bunch. i think it contained fried dough balls here, but i passed on those to just eat the sauce with my naan, and some breaded/fried cauliflower. the chana masala and the dal makhani were both a little runny for my taste... not to say they have to be creamy, but i do like those dishes thicker - especially the chana masala. sad to say, i didn't even touch dessert. next time, i promise! very reasonably priced at $7. no crowd at all when we walked through the door at 12:15pm. i was so, so happy with my lunch here and i'll be back very soon. likely this week!
gateway to india (malvern).
dined there: a couple weeks ago, weeknight dinner.
food: 9 | ambiance: 9 | service: 10
hard to compare side-to-side, since i was there for dinner. i really liked our quirky (i mean in a humorous way) waiter. i got the vegetarian sampler, figuring it would most closely resemble the hodgepodge of dishes i load up on at the buffets. we also ordered a couple types of naan and some samosas, at which point our waiter started giving me the bug eyes. "too much?" i ask. "maybe too much, but good business for me" he replies. i nodded, and decided to stick with my order, knowing i'd be taking most of it home. first up was a really yummy soup, tomato & cream base, and so heavy i had to share. next came my samosas, and soon after followed a massive platter of everything vegetarian under the sun. he was right, i ate for ten minutes and was stuffed. now all there was to do was pack up these ten individual dishes into individual crates. the man definitely earned his tip. the dishes - again, which i'm too naive to tell apart - were all incredibly rich and unhealthy i suspect (not that i have a problem with this). i'll be back shortly to report on the lunch buffet. they do have a really great ambiance inside, but i was there for dinner so this might not be a fair comparison.
dined there: last sunday @ lunch.
food: 1 | ambiance: 1 | service: 8
i'm not going to waste my time with a long review just as i hope you don't waste your time going here. no flavor, no ambiance (i mean, it's like a cafeteria in there). come on, guys, there's much much better waiting for you further down the main line.
next up to try:
himalayan (where is this exactly??)
Good to read detailed reviews from other restaurant patrons of Malvern Row Indian restaurants.
I agree with you regarding A Taste of India. Their food is reach and full of spice. I don't know if we are talking about the same dish when you referred to the dal makhani. ATOI has during the week buffet as one of its first displayed entrees a dal makhani which is labeled as dal/lentils in a butter sauce. In my experience, it is VERY runny, as you put it, without much body - mostly sauce. Every time I go there, if I choose this dish I have to strain out most of the sauce. Once in awhile they add red kidney beans to the dish and it makes a world of difference.
I have heard the ambience is very nice there for dinner. During peak times at the lunch buffet it is not easy to enjoy the ambience since it is so crowded and at times very noisy. For some reason, some people don't hear how their voices carry and how using their cell phones for extended periods of time is in poor taste for other patrons.
I agree with you regarding Royal India's ambience. Readers who have not been there should note, though, the ambience is of a different kind than what you find at ATOI in Wayne and at Gateway to India in Malvern. It is more of a relaxing Mediterranean ambience, which as you said is conveyed through the walkway to the restaurant on the side of a building hosting a small Indian grocery store (whose ambience is not to be confused with that of the restaurant). The interior is fixed up in a relaxed way, but note, if you go there during the lunch buffet when it is crowded, you have as part of the ambience, a somewhat loud Indian music video playing overhead on a large screen (what is this for?) as well as a crowd of people to go through to get to the food and to find your way back to your table - not my idea of a calm relaxing meal (even at ATOI during crowded times, you have some sense of "your space").
You referred to the slightly runny nature of RI's Channa Masala - I agree, but it still had body to it. Himalayan's Channa Masala is even thinner - very little if no potatoes as part of the mixture.
Yes, the naan at Royal India is heavenly. I have never had naan so moist and fresh as that served to me one time at my table - it had fenugreek in it and this was part of the lunch buffet - at a buffet on another day, the naan was just plain and served with other dishes at the buffet table. The dal makhani you referred to at RI the day I had it was not nearly as runny as that always served at ATOI. Not sure we are talking about the same dish, but the one I refer to is the same kind served between these two restaurants.
Doesn't sound like you had soup at RI. I have only had its tomato soup and it was very good - very full of flavor including some Indian spices.
You should treat yourself to a lunch buffet at GTI if for nothing else, the display of the food. I have never seen food served so elegantly at any Indian restaurant for a lunch buffet. And you get a large variety of vegetarian dishes, too. Their version of samosa and pakora are not as oily (the coating) as that you referred to at ATOI. Then again, it could be a personal preference. Some people like a heavier oilier coating. Everytime I have been to ATOI and have gotten their samosas, typically they go heavy on the potato portion of the mixture inside and the outside just seems a bit oily.
The soup you mentioned you had at GTI for dinner I have never seen at the lunch buffet. You referred to a tomato component. The vegetable soup offered at the lunch buffet is a golden puree of who knows what. I thought I found some very small bits of cauliflower in it. I don't know what else the chef puts in it - squash, dal, butter, cream, spices? All I know is that it is truly unique and truly heavenly. (I just looked at the menu for GTI and there is a vegetable soup listed as part of the vegetable platter you referred to - maybe at night the chef adds some tomato - all I know is that at noon, there is no hint of any redness nor taste of tomato in the vegetable soup!!)
Himalayan is between GTI and RI, in the Great Valley Shopping Center on the same side of Lancaster Ave. (Rte 30) as these other restaurants. It is midway in the center between all the other stores and restaurants. Very comfortable ambience, huge selection for the lunch buffet - some dishes are done better than others, decent spice mixture. As I mentioned before, this restaurant has the worst soup of all the restaurants I have reviewed on, not that it's bad, but it's no better than canned soup, which it may very well be.
Useful information about the other Indian restaurant you mentioned in Exton. It's hard to get to every restaurant, but for those that are recommended, it's worth driving a little bit further for the experience.
This board still awaits reviews for Taj Mahal.
Have you noticed how each restaurant does a slightly different spin on its basmati rice? The plainest (no taste, no spice, no nothing added) was at Amon's in Norristown, and more fragrant can be found among the restaurants referred to in this thread (ATOI, GTI, RI, and Himalayan). The first time I visited RI, the place really jazzed up its rice, like a biryani, mixed with vegetables, almost like a fried rice. On second trip, it was much plainer without much flavor, more like plain basmati rice. ATOI and GTI always have the rice mixed with small bits of other vegetables in a subtle way. Himalayan's rice is rather plain but you can taste how it has been stirred with some oil and spice to give it some flavor.
You mentioned that these restaurants offer much more during their weekend buffets. How much more can they add? During the week the buffet table containers are normally all filled? What else do they add?
Visited Taj Mahal in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center in Wayne, Pa due to a recent advertisement in the Friday entertainment section of the Philadelphia Inquirer which got my attention. The ad referred to the restaurant now offering south Indian as well as north Indian food. It referred to the food being spicy. This sounded like a difference from my experience of the restaurant from years ago.
In short, the host (who I believe manages the place), who was very friendly, hospitable, and made a strong point of educating me (and helping other patrons in understanding dishes), told me that there was new management and that the restaurant specialized now in south Indian food.
On first glance at the lunch buffet offering, I was not impressed. The food was not visually appealing and some of the selections looked sparse (the dessert trays, salad section). This perception is a personal bias of mine from my previous experience with north Indian food which is quite colorful. The selections had a color that was rather dark and without much color. Even the chicken saag looked more gray than green.
But ... looks are deceiving. Most of the selections were very flavorful and the spice in the dishes was very appealing. It should be noted that the food was south Indian and flavors from the mixture of spices is quite different from that offered at restaurants offering north Indian food. In other words, most dishes are either void of cream, or contain a small amount of it. North Indian food, like that served at A Taste of India offer dishes that are much heavier on cream, butter, sugar, and the use of potatoes in its dishes.
Some standout dishes at Taj Mahal included a very delicious sambar (it was one of the best I have ever had), the chicken saag (creamy spinach mixture with tender small pieces of chicken - the cream portion of this dish was on the minimal side and the taste of the spinach was flavorful as it was complimented by a mild spicy flavor - I could have eaten a large portion of it without feeling bloated from the cream content as is typical with Indian restaurants doing a similar saag dish), and bissibella bath (a dal type mixture of lentils, vegetables, nuts and rice).
The basmati rice was plain - nothing was done to it other than it having been boiled. But the interesting thing is that with the rich flavor of the other dishes, the fact that it WAS plain was perfect. The flavors and richness of the other dishes required the contrast of the rice prepared as it was, so as to not interfere with the other flavors.
On this day, tomato soup was offered and it was very plain with a slight spice flavor that was very different from that at north Indian restaurants. I couldn't place the spice(s) that made the difference, but it was different from what I have had at Royal India, A Taste of India, and Himalayan. The soup was thinner than I have had at other restaurants and I was reminded of the role that cream can play. Cream was not used in this soup. Perhaps it is typical of south Indian food for the soup to be more on the thin side in terms of texture (not on flavor). (The soup at A Taste of India tends to be thicker and very rich in flavor, but they use a fair amount of cream and what seems like a more intense use of spices.)
Food typical of south India complimented the sambar - a fresh tasting Idly and Vada, the latter of which I did not have. The Idly blended well when I dunked it into the sambar. I could have stayed the whole day eating that sambar it was do delicious - it was full of various vegetables and though it was spicy, it was done with good taste and was not overwhelming. I am tempted to but will not go on and on about the deliciousness of the sambar!!! (There were no samosas in the buffet this day. They are on the menu.)
A large dosa was brought to my table as part of the buffet. The crepe was thin and crispy and was filled with a potato mixture - it was more mild like mashed potatoes than the spicy mixture I have had at Gateway to India. When I dunked it in the tamarind chutney it acquired more of an appealing taste. After I let the dosa sit for a few minutes, the crepe became less moist and could barely be cut with a fork without tearing (at that point I picked it up like a native Indian and figured out that a fork was not meant to be used to consume the dosa). The crispness and lack of moistness of this dosa may be due to the fact that the flour mixture is rice based, typical of south Indian breads (I believe) than north Indian (whose dosas may be made from a different type of flour).
There were at least four, possibly six chutneys available. The tamarind chutney had a pleasant flavor.
The salad bar consisted of nothing more than shredded cabbage, cut up carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes. The raita I used for the dressing had a very nice flavor.
Other dishes in the buffet consisted of a baby eggplant mixture (ennai katrikkai) which was interesting - each small eggplant was very moist to bite into and was in a nice sauce, tardka dal (mildly flavored with a south Indian flare), vegetable makhni (this day consisted of zucchini slices in a tomato creamy sauce), a lamb dish, and tandoori chicken which consisted of baby sized pieces whose taste and presentation was forgettable (the size made them better suited for appetizers to be eaten as finger food, and the taste did not resemble, in the least, tandoori chicken I have had at every other Indian restaurant offering north Indian food).
Naan was brought to the table and it was moist and better than naan that sits in trays at buffets at other restaurants. It reminded me of the naan I had at Royal India although not as moist.
Desserts this day consisted of rasgullah, gulab jamun (which consisted of smaller sized balls than I have seen at other restaurants), and fresh fruit (cut up canteloupe and honeydew). I had the fruit and it was tasteless. I can't hold the restaurant responsible for its preparation but a taste test should have resulted in other fruit with some taste being offered. Perhaps the buyer didn't have any other choice the day of the purchase, or the fruit just never "aged/turned" as expected. Honeydew is not easy to pick and sometimes does not turn out sweet, but canteloupe is very easy to choose and so the offering of tasteless canteloupe is inexcusable. Neither of the fruits this day were sweet in the least.
On the midweek day that I visited TM, this restaurant was not crowded but those eating on that day all seemed to enjoy the food very much and impressed me as return customers. Most of the patrons were Asian Indians, and other patrons were local folks who enjoyed Indian food.
The dishes impressed me for their full flavor without needing a heavy does of cream or oil to create that result.
Both servers were very pleasant and attentive. Can't say enough about the main host (manager?) who made everyone feel like they were his special guest. The personal treatment that all patrons received may have in fact been due to some degree to the relatively small crowd in the restaurant on this day along with the more manageable size of the restaurant.
The intererior of the restaurant was nice and relaxing soft Indian music was played on overhead speakers.
It appears that the buffet offers different dishes on different days, so return visits will give one more exposure to their other dishes. The largest selection is supposedly offered on the weekends.
The only negatives I could say about my experience was with the tandoori chicken, which although was tender did not have the flavor in the coating I am used to, and the mini size of the pieces was very unappealing, the tastelessness of the fresh fruit (credit to the restaurant for offering fresh fruit though), the plainness of the salad bar (even Gateway to India while offering a very plain salad, offers side accoutrements like toasted sunflower seeds, chickpeas and other items). The tomato sauce of the vegetable makhani dish tasted like a heavy dose of tomato paste thinned with a bit of cream flavored with a few spices - to my palate it was not appealing.
But all told, of all the dishes offered, this was the only dish that was unappealing. There was an empty tray next to the barely filled tray of gulab jamun indicating that another dessert was not being offered. (An empty tray is a no-no at such a buffet display.) It should have been removed.
I believe for the month of June, TM's lunch buffet is priced at a 10% discount to its normal $7.99 price. Total bill for me for the buffet without any added drinks or food was under $8.
So, in summary, if you want an authentic experience of south Indian food, you will not be disappointed by the food at Taj Mahal. The lunch buffet, while not offering as much as some other restaurants, provides a more than adequate offering of main dishes, and if you are fortunate, they will have sambar the day you go there. If you want food consisting of more of a cream base, sweeter food, this is not the place to go to.
I can't emphasize enough of the difference between the nearby A Taste of India and Taj Mahal. Both offer very flavorful and spicy food. Your preference for which is "better" will depend on your preference for certain flavors - north Indian cooking as represented by ATOI uses more cream, butter, potatoes, in their cooking while south Indian as represented by TM uses other means to provide flavorful and spicy food which may be lighter on one's digestive system.
Due to my preferences for certain spices and flavors, I will put out my bias - I prefer north Indian cooking, but I did find the south Indian dishes as prepared by Taj Mahal very enjoyable and on a hot day, easier to digest. When I eat at north Indian influenced restaurants, I tend to overindulge on the "heavier" dishes that are more cream based.
Even though Taj Mahal bills itself as offering north and south indian cuisine, my guess is that the north indian dishes will still be influenced by the south indian nature of this restaurant. The cream based tomato sauce of the vegetable makhni the day I visited did not have the richness nor the flavor as a similar sauce that one would get at a place like A Taste of India (its sauce for its chicken tikka masala and the sauce for its mutter paneer are very rich and more on the sweet side, mouth wateringly delicious). TJ's tomato sauce reminded me of a dish attempting to match a north Indian treatment. I think TM does the best job in its south Indian dishes.
I recommend this restaurant for a change of pace, offering a flavorful and healthy experience of food that is flavored differently from that which most of us local people associate as being "Indian food" which in most places means north Indian cooking.
you've got to be kidding me!! i dragged a coworker out with me yesterday to hit the lunchtime buffet at the taj mahal. :) i'll keep it short, mainly because i'm exhausted and you captured what i was going to say in a lot more technical detail. i'm still learning the names of the dishes.
at first i was a little underwhelmed when i saw the size of the buffet, but was excited that all but 2 of the dishes offered were vegetarian. my dining partner was upset there was no chana masala. i did try the tomato soup here; very runny compared to other versions i've had. you are right, the absence of cream makes a HUGE difference. at the taj, it truly was a side dish - as opposed to a place like gateway to india where it could quite easily serve as a meal on its own. the naan was decent (but doesn't hold a candle to royal india, which i'd eaten at two days prior).
that potato-crepe dish (forgot what you'd called it) was a nice touch; i think i was dipping it in the onion chutney. a sweet selection of 6 chutneys was another pleasant surprise.
the incredibly nice owner also brought me a mango lassi free of charge, because i'd never had one. i'll probably go back if for nothing else the kind service there.
the dishes were definitely less creamy and less filling than ATOI (the restaurant which sets the standard in my opinion). the baby eggplants were one of the standouts for me; i've never had that dish before. they were very juicy. in general i wish all the dishes were a little spicier, or creamier, or both. either way, i'll be back. i work literally walking distance from here. not that i think i'll walk it just yet. i need to learn a little portion control first so i can be a little more motivated to move when i leave these places!!
this marks the fourth time i've had indian food in the last five days. this is getting ridiculous. i'm going to be big as a house by july if i don't watch it!! ;)
p.s. you are correct, ATOI turns down the lights and turns up the blue and red party lights over the crystal chandeliers at night. it's worlds different from their lunchtime service. you'll really get a chance to talk to the owner, too, who is super friendly. i get a sweet 15% discount when i get takeout for the amount of business i bring them. ;)
re: weekend buffet @ ATOI - usually everything is just more packed in to the tables that already stand there. there really is an insane amount of food. whenever i bring out-of-town guests there, they're completely overwhelmed and we all leave waaay too stuffed. there is such a thing as too much variety!!
Maybe just a coincidence that you had the baby eggplant at the buffet just as I did. I wonder if we were at TM on the same day!!
I really believe that this south Indian food takes getting used to after we have enjoyed north Indian food. You know, years ago my first exposure to Indian food was, I believe, with south Indian food, and I didn't care for it. Then years later, I had north Indian food and it was more to my liking.
What really opened up my world was Indian food prepared by an Indian based spiritual organization that seemed to hit the bulls eye with me. Like a chakra that is just for gustatory delight was awakened. Or as the Hare Krishna's call it, "A Higher Taste."
The food at TM is just different and I dont' think it's fair for me to make value judgements due to my own bias and personal preferences, but I can try to make factual descriptions. For example, as we both observed, the tomato soup at TM is much thinner than what you get at ATOI, but I'm sure that ATOI uses a generous amount of cream, and you know what cream can do to anything ...
The other thing I noticed that many of the vegetarian dishes offered the day I was there (at TM) were, as you said, "runny". But I think that is the style of south Indian food. Most of the veg dishes seemed like they were thick purees, versus what you see at ATOI which is more solid looking food in a bath of sauce.
After I left TM, I had a different after taste in my mouth from some unidentifiable spice. It wasn't unpleasant, just not nearly as pleasant as the aftertaste I have after leaving ATOI's lunch buffet.
If you look at the Taj Mahal's menu (and the manager told me this, too), I think the lunch buffet's selections change daily. I believe that many of the dishes on the menu, though common in name with what I have had at other Indian restaurants, would be prepared quite differently, and therefore of interest to me.
I found that after going to ATOI for years, that the same dishes were being recycled, and I felt the need to venture out to other places and see what they had.
Even with the same dishes, places like Gateway to India and Royal India do a slightly different treatment that ATOI (and just as satisfying). I miss ATOI not offering okra dishes more often. I have had it there twice in all the years I have been to the buffet and for some reason they prefer to offer a few other vegetable dishes. In recent ventures, they have really emphasized potatoes as a component of its alu gobi (cauliflower and potatoes) versus the cauliflower. But whatever spice mixture they use for the dishes is just so addicting.
Their tomato soup (at ATOI) is thick and full of substance. Like the vegetable soup at Gateway to India. Royal India's soup is just a tad thinner than ATOI, but much thicker than TM, again whose presentation I believe is more typical of the south Indian style. It really is another form of cuisine.
I kept on comparing things to ATOI until I accepted the different cuisine styles.
You are right about the naan. It's not like Royal India's mouth watering bread, but it is more than adequate in its moistness. As the manager said, when naan is left out in the buffet display containers, it dries out.
Glad you also had a very good experience with the host/manager. He really is an exceptional person, a fine representative for his restaurant. Not every person can welcome patrons and help them with their choice as he does.
I felt similar treatment at Gateway to India. Royal India due to the big crowd did not offer that personal touch.
I look forward to visiting these restaurants some weekend. From what you describe, there are more choices. During the week, it seems like most of these restaurants offer at least 3 to 4 veg dishes, 2 chickend dishes, and 1 lamb/goat/fish selection.
The day I was at TM, the veg dishes were eggplant, tardka dal, lentil/veg/rice puree, sambar, zucchini in tomato sauce, tomato soup - only so much fits on a plate!
Chana masala is many people's favorites and when it is not offered as a selection at the buffet it is easy to think that something is missing. When I saw it absent from the TM buffet I almost left, but saw so many other dishes, including the saag chicken, I let go of the need to have it!
With it being such a favorite, I don't know why ATOI offers it only once or twice a week instead of having their dal mahkni (black lentils in a butter sauce) EVERY DAY. That dish is so unsatisfying compared with the channa masala. One thing I liked about the selection at TM (and Royal India and Gateway), is that if there is not one or two favorite selections (like channa masala or saag), there are almost always just as satisfying other dishes to make up for their absence. Sometimes during the week, ATOI features selections that are not equal to those offered on other days.
I'm curious why you gave the ambience at TM only a 6. I thought it was nicely decored, pleasant background Indian sitar-type music, adequate space between tables. I don't recall seeing any chandeliers like at ATOI, but what I connected to was the "warmth" of the setting, colors, calmness, ease of navigating through the place, distance from nearby patrons, quality of presentation. The buffet table was not appealing as other restaurants (Gateway to India is by far the most beautiful, except for containers for their salad bar), but most of us remember the taste of the food more than where we got the food from!!
I wonder how few people are aware of the taste and selection that awaits them at the Taj Mahal restaurant. If I had not seen an ad describing the place as offering south Indian and spicy food, I would have assumed it was the same place as I visited years ago offering extremely bland tasting food for the buffet.
Revisited Royal India in the middle of the week and was reminded of this place being the best value by far of any such restaurant in the western suburbs.
For $7 at the lunch buffet there was decent lentil soup (thick, not soupy, mildly spiced, tasted homemade not out of a can), three different kinds of salads (mexican, punjabi, American), three different kinds of rice, pakoras (I think this is what it was - I didn't have it - it looked too deep fried and oily to my taste), many chutney selections, free sweet lassi, fresh naan made with fenugreek, three different kinds of chicken dishes including tandoori chicken the way it is supposed to be made (very tasty and done perfectly), eggplant and potato dish, mashed paneer, okra dish, dal mahkni (with red kidney beans in a thick tomato-like sauce - I mention the tomato sauce because I have never had this dish with as much tomato in the sauce - it didn't overwhelm the dish but it was noticeable and pleasant), lamb dish, and a delicious korma cauliflower dish cooked in a coconut cream sauce that was rich but not overwhelmingly so, and five different desserts including a delicious mango pudding and a gajar ka halwa (grated carrots cooked in buttery cream mixture that was done perfectly - not too sweet, not too buttery nor mushy).
Very nice entrance to the restaurant. I do not like the more contemporary Indian pop music that accompanied the video playing overhead (music videos), but maybe others do. I prefer softer more traditional Indian music.
For $7 including tax, no other such restaurant can touch Royal India for the selection and variety and amount of food during midweek at the lunch buffet. The quality of the food was decent. Not as "refined" as you would get at Gateway to India, but very satisfying.
Just so that my last statement on the previous post is not misunderstood, I wanted to clarify my use of the word "refined" referring to the food at Royal India not being as "refined" as that of Gateway to India but still satisfying.
I did not mean refined in terms of cutting out nutrition, as in refined vs. unrefined, but rather in terms of delicasy of flavor and use of spices, and a certain level of sophistication to obtain a desired result.
When you eat at Gateway to India, you will know what I am referring to.
Due to the layout of Royal India and the walkway leading into the restaurant, you feel very at ease. It's an unpretentious setting. These restaurants must be very romantic to visit in the evening with their lighting and decoration that probably reveal themselves differently under a different light.
I did want to clarify a point. One reason why A Taste of India in Wayne has food that tastes so rich is because of the amount of cream in the dishes.
So, if you want rich very flavorful food, you can attribute it to the cream base in some of their sauces.
As was mentioned before on this board, their chicken tikka masala is "to die for." Some may not like the sauce because it is so rich, while others may think they have taken the express lane to the afterlife.
Same explanation regarding their carrot halwa. Very rich and mouth watering sweet. Royal India does a toned down version of this dessert, still very good, but not as rich as A Taste of India's, and I guess, alot healthier for you.
If you want food prepared with less fat/cream/butter/sugar, etc., Gateway to India and Royal India may be your preference. I believe that Himalayan uses less cream than A Taste of India. The chicken tikka masala at Gateway to India uses a sauce that is quite different from that of A Taste of India. It (Gateway's version) is not really much to my liking. There is almost a slightly bitter or sour taste to the sauce, whereas at ATOI, the sauce is sweeter and void of any sourness or bitterness. Someone else may have a different reaction. I know that different parts of India emphasize different spices, some mixtures are sweeter, more sour, etc. So, whether something tastes good or not should be clarified as to what it is about the spice mixture that pleases or displeases the reviewer. When I go to Gateway to India, I choose the tandoori chicken over the tikka masala whose sauce leaves an unpleasant aftertaste in my mouth due to my perception of a sourness or bitterness.
By the way, the tomato soup at Royal India is excellent (or at least the one time I had it there) - spicy, even combination of spices. The tomato soup at A Taste of India tastes like there is much more cream added to it, and it is definitely much sweeter, at times much too sweet, like excessive sugar was added to it. In either case, both these places offer very flavorful soup, which is more than can be said for some other restaurants (I have yet to go to Himalayan when they have made soup as flavorful as Gateway, Royal India, or A Taste of India.).
If anyone has been to the Taj Mahal in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center in Wayne, I'd appreciate a review. Haven't been there in years due to the last time the lunch buffet was not spicy at all and was told that they did not want to alienate their clientele. Maybe they have changed since then.
Also in King of Prussia: There is a little place in the mall food court by Sears. They always have 4 vegetarian options; I was talking to someone (the owner, I think) who told me that his wife is vegetarian, so they take vegetarian seriously. They have a combo price: two of the daily veggie entrees with rice, raita and a little salad for $4.99 (higher prices if you want some of the non-veggie items). They will also make you naan or mango lassi and other things to order.
They used to advertise that their meat items were Halal; they don't advertise that any more. I'm not sure if they stopped being Halal or if they were afraid of anti-Muslim backlash.
I don't know if it was on this thread where another poster took a mild exception to my comments on Indian Delight at the King of Prussia Mall food court.
I had said that it was overpriced, considering what is available at other Indian restaurants near the mall . I wanted to update my opinion and give credit where credit is due. As of 11/25/06 the combination platter consisting of rice, two entrees, small salad is now $5.99. My complaint was with the portion sizes. Maybe it was just a snapshot picture I got yesterday, but I saw one Asian Indian gentleman being served two large portions of vegetarian entrees (chana masala and saag paneer) aside a hefty portion of rice. I only mention the ethnicity of the patron, because Americans are known for expecting larger sized servings, and yet what I observed here gave me the indication that Indian Delight is perhaps now giving all customers more for their dollar, even those whose expectations for a serving size might merit a smaller helping. So, for $5.99, with the home cooked nature of the food (albeit the scrimpy-sized salad with raita), the serving was something worth noting. I said before, that with the other food offerings at the food court by other vendors, for $6, a customer deserves more than a small serving of a dish. I have never passed by this place without being aware of the very appealing aroma coming from the food.
On this day, a two samosa serving went for about $3.00. Guess that's the going rate for this, particularly at a food mall setting. I always looked at samosas as being a snack, preceding the main dish. When you start combining items, a la carte, be it here, or at any Indian restaurant, the eating out experience can become quite expensive.
So, for anyone who is in King of Prussia (and particularly as Christmas shopping is calling more strongly), at the mall, and who doesn't want to bother going to nearby Indian restaurants for their buffets, I would recommend Indian Delight, to satisfy the desire for appealing Indian food. Just expect for the next few weekends up through Christmas, the food mall court in King of Prussia is a very crowded and loud place to enjoy the delicious-smelling Indian food. Best to go during the week. One additional comment - on this Friday, the big day for shopping after Thanksgiving, most restaurants in the food court had lines of people. Indian Delight had one customer. Another followed after the first one got his food. I think the higher price than at other vendors is still a consideration for many shoppers, and that the higher quality and more exotic flavors is not enough to justify paying a few dollars more for this kind of food - they'd rather spend just a few dollars on a plain sandwich and a drink (at one of the franchise large chain fast food places serving plain sandwiches).
I hope this place makes it, but on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, it was noticeable that Indian Delight was not attracting customers nearly to the same volume as other food court establishments.
correction on my directions to Royal India ...
" ... Royal India, the first restaurant on the rte 30 strip of stores just as you turn on to the road from rte 29, heading east. ... ""
should read ... HEADING WEST (towards Frazer from the turn off on rte 29 onto Lancaster Ave ... the restaurant is on the right side)
Wow, you guys seem to be fervent about Indian food. My ethnicity is Indian, and I believe to be a good judge of Indian food. So, look me up for advice. However, I'm new to the area, so although I can provide you tips on what's good and what's not, I'm still discovering new places to eat around Philly and chester co.
First trip to Himalayan Restaurant on a weekend. Hadn't been to this restaurant in many months. With the exception of the undercooked gobi masala (the cauliflower wasn't cooked enough), the meal was memorable and one of the best experiences I have had at Indian restaurants in this area in years.
The Mulligatawney soup, while a bit on the thin side, was delicious. On the weekend, masala dosas are part of the buffet assortment, and having them with the delicious sambar was a special treat. The salad and raita were very good. There was an appetizer I hadn't seen before consisting of a small tart-shaped crisy puri in which chick pea sprouts and other items were placed topped with a chutney. An Indian woman who was a veteran of this restaurant told me the contrast in taste and texture made for a delicious experience. I simply added the chick pea sprouts to my salad which was a big enough treat for me.
The pakoras this day were excellent - among the best I have had at Indian restaurants in years - the inside contained a big segment of a vegetable and the outside had the right texture, taste, and consistency of the spicy gram flour.
Chana masala simply consisted of cooked chick peas in some creamy tomato sauce. It was delicious. Tandoori chicken and the chicken tikka masala were done perfectly. Naan was fresh. I skipped the lamb or other meat dish. One other dish was paneer masala. During the week, the two trays that on this day contained the sambar and dosas normally contain other vegetable dishes.
Having some other green vegetable offering would have been ideal, but with all the dishes offered this day, the greens would have to wait. It's not every visit to any Indian restaurant that I see chick pea SPROUTS.
Along with the basic salad which consisted of many different vegetables, was a macaroni salad (didn't have it), was a chat.
There were many desserts, mostly dairy based, fresh fruit including fresh honeydew, cantaloupe, apples, and various traditional Indian sweets, and Indian masala tea.
Many diners were having mango lassi. I forgot to ask for mine, but I was near ready to explode, having enjoyed the food I took past the moderation point.
I was reminded why this place is as popular as it is.
An Indian lady I spoke with who is a regular at this place told me that of all the places she has been, this restaurant and another one gets the spice mixture "right." I agreed with her. Interesting that on the Sunday I visited Himalayan the rooms were half-filled. During the week, the restaurant is much more crowded.
Himalayan is back up on my list for being one of the top three Indian restuarants in the King of Prussia - Malvern - Frazer area.
I'm becoming more attached to the spicing mixture used at Himalayan. I enter my post here to declare that the chefs at this restaurant know how to make a sambar to die for. Very spicy, full of many many ingredients, thick, drowning in flavor, and sufficient by itself to make one give up searching "for the holy grail" or the "perfect Indian dish." Their sambar reminded me of what Taj Mahal had with its sambar earlier in the year when it had cooks doing southern Indian cooking.
The day I was at Himalayan, they offered coconut soup which I have never had. It was ok. Tasted like a mildly sweet dairy milk, a bit thin. A few cashew nuts were found swimming in the soup liquid. Unknown to me, sambar was offered this day, and if I would have known, I would have done without the coconut soup. It was interesting to taste for something different, but given its lightness, I could see having something like this on a hot day, which this day was not.
Other dishes were tastefully done, and many of the dishes seemed to have had the same stock sauce used, which was fine with me, given the very pleasant taste. Pakoras on this day were done deliciously - very fresh crisp exterior which gave way to a moist interior filled with a decent sized vegetable, cauliflower, methi, I think. The carrot halwa was done perfectly - not too dry nor wet. I am not an expert on mango lassi - the one I had at Royal India tasted a bit thicker than this one, but it was still refreshing after having had my fire lit with the sambar. Don't know what the chefs did with the tandoori chicken - the coating on it tasted overly sweet, with a tinge of something vinegary - not very appealing. This was the only aspect of the food that was subpar.
Not many Indian restaurants in the area offer a sambar for a lunch buffet. If you want some soupy dish loaded with flavor and heat, know that Himalayan will quench your appetite with its version of sambar.
I have a question about spices and tastes.
Of the West Philly Indian buffets, most of my friends prefer New Delhi. But there's something about the taste that never sat well with me. All of their dishes had a bite to them that just didn't sit so well with my tastebuds. I always prefered the flavors at Tandoor India, even though the waitstaff there had a bite to them them that always left a bad taste in my mouth!.
While the New Delhi dishes were spicier, I don't believe this is about spiciness. I've discovered a small restaurant back home in Providence where the cook refuses to adapt to Americanized tastes, the dishes are very spicy, and I find them delicious.
Can anyone tell me what it is that distinguishes the taste at New Delhi? Is it a certain spice? Does it have to do with the region of India? I'd love to be better educated about Indian food, and be able to communicate more intelligently about my preferences.
yay! another convert!
i sent someone here as well... i went to the indian place in KoP mall for lunch earlier this week (which, except for the fresh garlic naan, was **horrible!!**) and someone asked me what i was eating. i told them, but i also told them where they could find much better: at a taste of india over in gateway.
i've now *officially* tried every indian place in this area (with the exception of jaipur (sp?) in KoP) and i can report back, without a doubt, ATOI blows all the others away. royal india, because of its fresh naan and romantic decor, is my runner-up... but it's a distant second.
rabidog - funny reply!! Is the Indian restaurant in the KOP mall to which you are referring "Indian Delight?" The food smells good. The channa masala and saag paneer and basmati rice looked decent. Can't vouch for the chicken tikka masala and mixed vegetables I saw. Was it that distasteful?
One day, everyone eating at the ATOI lunch buffet will be there because they read about the place from Chowhound! While ATOI does the best overall job among all the Indian restaurants in the KOP/Norristown/Malvern/Frazer/Exton/MainLine area (in my opinion), I do not feel that they do the best for every dish, by far.
In my experience, Gateway to India in Malvern does the best job for masala dosas (combined with the mildly spiced potato filling and mint chutney on the side) and rice. Himalayan has an outrageously delicious sambar, which is part of the buffet during the weekend, along with the dosas, which are much heavier than those made at GTI. (As I mentioned earlier, when the Taj Mahal was doing south Indian cooking over the summer for a few months, they took the prize for the best sambar and mulligatawney soup I have ever had. Now, Himalayan's version of the sambar comes very close to what I had at the Taj Majal. I don't think I will ever have Mulligatawney soup like that ever again unless I go to another south Indian restaurant which duplicates authentic south Indian cooking.) Royal India gets some of their naan done with more moistness than ATOI, for the lunch buffet, at least. Royal India has had, at the few times I have been there, among the few salads, one consisting of various vegetables not seen at other restaurants. GTI's salad, while just consisting of one selection, is normally extremely fresh and full of a variety of many vegetables. Himalayan, at times, does a good job with the pakoras, other times, nothing special. Ditto with Gateway to India - sometimes they get their pakoras done right, other times, nothing more than vegetables covered with a thin layer of tasteless deep-fried breaded coating. That vegetable soup at Gateway to India is nothing like other Indian restaurants offer. It is truly memorable. Royal India's soups are generally superior to those at your average Indian restaurant, particularly the tomato soup as well as the vegetable soup. TOI used to do something a bit different with its Mulligatawney - in recent months, to my taste, it has gotten milder and not so exceptional.
Funny, in that when you first visit ATOI for its lunch buffet, the desert selection can be overwhelming, so you normally take more than is healthy. You know that you are under control when after you have partaken of the soup, salads, appetizers, and various dishes, you finish off your meal with perhaps tea, or just fruit. (At Himalayan, the freebies are more varied ... they offer free masala tea, which tasted more like chai to me than a non-milk based tea I was expecting. Sometimes there are newspaper coupons for the weekend buffet which consist of free mango lassi. I had that the last time I was there, and it was so rich I did not feel like eating desert - felt like I already had it.) Interesting in that after having visited more Indian restaurants, I notice that ATOI's version of carrot halwa is perhaps excessively rich, in that they could cut back on the butter and other rich ingredients and still have it taste very good. I say this from what the versions I have had at Himalayan and Royal India. You will not find a richer raita than what you get at ATOI. Without giving away the restaurant's secret ingredient, they do add something to make it richer. It's not necessary, but it definitely makes the raita standout from what you get elsewhere. It's like ATOI intentionally turns up the notch on richness and flavor ... so if you go to eat there, don't expect blandness or low fat food!! Enjoy yourself for one meal! It's sort of like walking into a very sunny area and knowing that you will need to wear sunglasses. Similar to what you will get at ATOI with flavor and richness.
I'm glad for Suefoo that she enjoyed ATOI and caught the lunch buffet on a good day. Once in awhile, the offerings aren't as appealing as other days. If there was a big lunch crowd, most likely you were there on a Wed, Thurs, or Friday. Suefoo - if you liked ATOI from the one time you were there, try going there on a different day, or the same day - they tend to recycle the same dishes for the buffet, but until you have been there at least five times, you will have an opportunity to try new dishes, be they eggplant, chick pea, okra, soups, cauliflower, etc. (And ... if you like ATOI, try Royal India and Himalayan in Malvern for their buffet. You will not be disappointed. Both offer a large variety of deserts, which you indicated you enjoyed, and offer aromatic and pleasingly spiced entrees.) If you ever try Desi Village or Jaipur in KOP, or Aman's in Norristown, let us Chowhounder's know. It's always helpful to get current reviews.
Sometimes there are interesting salads there. In prior years TOI used to offer as many as four salads. My favorite salad of all time there was a chicken salad which consisted of normal greens with bits of chicken, red onion, a few other veg, mixed with some unknown (to me) spice powder that defined ATOI to me, in that the aftertaste is very pleasing, and cannot be duplicated by anything I can even think of. (The aftertaste of food at Gateway to India does not do it for me, tho' I think they do a good job.)
I wonder, Rabidog, if you have been to Desi Village in KOP recently. I have not returned to Jaipur since my last misadventure at the buffet last year.
Here's my verdict after having been in the area since mid June:
I've been to the following places, and hence my judgment is restricted to the variety I have tried here:
Ranking is based on the dishes I have liked at these restaurants, and not everything at the restaurant itself!
1) Chicken Tikka Masala and Naans at A Taste of India in Wayne/Malvern
2) Kabab Palace for their Kababs. Try the tandoori chicken and seekh kababs. They make it to order. See review here : http://www.phillylunchbox.com/2003/12...). Other menu items are passable
3) Chola Bhatura (Spiced chickpea dish with flat deep fried bread) : Devi at Exton
Now, I'll digress a little on the geographic location....but these are still worth a mention.
If you guys are really into Indian food, a roadtrip to Iselin, NJ may be worth it.)
4) Moksha at Iselin, serves South Indian Coastal cuisine, so this is different from the regular Mughlai cuisine you get at buffets. Here is what I'd tried:
Kozhukattai, Pakoda Milagai, Kal Dosai, Mysore Dosai (Pancakes stufed with spicy seasoned potatoes), thoran, uruai pirattal (Yes, I've preserved the receipt so that I remember the names of these dishes when I go there the next time!
5) If you are ever, ever in New York City, try out Niamat Kada on Lexington. Their Biryani and Karahi Chicken are to die for. This is a Pakistani restaurant. Don't expect great decor..the food itself is worth the drive!
Couldn't get a comprehensive review on the 'net for this one though: http://www.menupages.com/restaurantde...
Places I haven't liked:
Aman Restaurant (doesn't use much fatty oils or butter to prepare food, so actually, its more healthy
Places I haven't yet visited:
Jaipur at KoP
* I'm Indian, so this review is biased towards a spicy Indian palate
* Don't go for the buffets in the restaurant. Try A La Carte from the menu, you will find the dishes will be much better.
Sertasheep - thanks for the suggestions for Indian restaurants outside this area we are discussing. It is helpful to know which places in NYC and Iselin are recommended. My first exposure to Indian food was at a restaurant in Manhattan. Didn't have Indian food for years after that bad experience. I didn't know that the food can differ significantly from one place to another.
It would have been helpful for you to add what you didn't like about Desi Village, given that you are more sophisticated about Indian food than many of us (who did not grow up with Indian food). I think most places are decent, just relatively so, in that most places have very good offerings and those to be avoided. I once had a catered dinner (buffet style) at Desi Village, and it was very good. When I went back for the lunch buffet several times, the selection and quality was not duplicated, as though the place was saving certain dishes for a la carte ordering.
I do recommend people going for the lunch buffet so as to be exposed to various dishes (inexpensively also). Granted, you will be able to sample certain dishes not available at the buffet by ordering off the menu at times, but you can't beat a buffet for variety and pricing.
I have found that sambar is generally only available at a buffet on weekends. For anyone who has not had a sambar, it is worth going for the weekend buffet.
I agree with you about Aman's. The food is cooked with healthy eating in mind vs. indulging in ingredients that contribute to rich flavor, lots of oil, fat, butter, sugar, etc. It's not a bad place to go to if you are emphasizing eating healthy and want a very mild hint of Indian spice in your food.
I suggest (since you mentioned this in your post) that before you try Jaipur in King of Prussia, drive an extra 10 to 15 minutes and try the three restaurants in Malvern, each within a distance of one mile of each other, all on the same side of rte 30 (Lancaster Ave).
I'd try Himalayan in the Great Valley Shopping Center for its lunch buffet anytime. They have a great sambar on the weekend and a large variety to choose from during the week. (And since you like spicy food, you will not be disappointed with the sambar that Himalayn makes. I have had it twice, and both times it was very spicy, nothing held back.) Royal India (just off the turn from rte 29 onto Lancaster Ave going west) is a much smaller place but offers a large variety of food and does a good job with flavor and dishes. Gateway to India in Frazier, just a half mile further on rte 30 going west, and in Frazer, is a more formal restaurant, and offers far fewer dishes than the other two restaurants for its buffet. It does a very good job on some dishes, while on other dishes, they are ok to substandard. Its vegetable soup is outstanding. You will find that its spice mixture in its food is very different from that of ATOI, H, and RI.
Perhaps Jaipur does a good job on individual dishes. My experience with its lunch buffet (except for its sambar and vada) was that it is, politely put, better done elsewhere.
And keep in mind, that the former Taj Mahal, in the Chesterbrook shopping center, closed recently, and had a sign saying it was going to reopen in the near future under a different name, and hopefully, an improved offering. It former reincarnation prior to the short experiment with south Indian cooking, was to serve Indian food that was very mild, so as to accommodate the American taste that didn't want spicy food - that's what I was told. And that's why I stopped going there.
I have heard that two areas that are loaded with Indian restaurants are Edison, NJ, and Queens. But we are fortunate in this area to have as many Indian restaurants as we do, and that they are not too far from each other, though they are clustered in specific areas - KOP/Malvern/Wayne/Main Line/Exton, Fort Washington/Ambler/Montgomeryville/Lansdale, West Philly, Old City/Center City, Northeast Philly/Langhorne (have I left out any clustered areas?).
As we have mentioned on this thread before, a few restaurants are in a league of their own - at least in the KOP/Wayne/Malvern area, A Taste of India, Royal India, Himalayan, while the others do a varying degree of satisfying dishes.
I haven't been back to West Philly in years and recall that while I used to like Tandoor India, found its saag paneer very oily and was left with stomach cramps. Then I was exposed to the Indian restaurants in the wester suburbs and never went back.
Too bad you weren't in this area earlier. There was a very inexpensive place in Center City called Minar Palace that made the best Saag (Palak?) Panner I have ever had. The rice the dish was served on was very flavorful, too. The place closed due to the reconstruction of the location it was in. Some of the other dishes it did were ok, but I think many people thought the saag paneer was exceptional. I have yet to have that same dish made to that quality in any other restaurant I have been to.
Sertasheep - you said you were Indian ... what region of India was the food you grew up with native to? East, west, Bengali, Punjab, north, south? Inquiring minds want to know! What you grew up with will influence what you prefer, particularly with respect to the spice mixture you prefer. It would be interesting for you to go to Gateway to India and let the rest of us know what kind of spice mixture they use that makes it different from the other places (it IS different from that used at Himalayan, Royal India, and ATOI).
I'm from Bangalore, which is the hub of southern India, but like all sorts of Indian cuisine, and having spent time in several parts of India, I was exposed to various cuisines. My favorite of course is Mughlai(Tandoori, and the types you usually get in Indian restaurants in the US) followed by Western Coastal(Konkan/Karavali/Malabar/Chettinad) and SouthEastern(Deccan) cuisine, primarily for their levels of spice. Other cuisines have lower levels of spice.
Re: Desi Village: I had high expectations for Desi Village, and hence did not like it (recommended to me by my Pakistani cab driver). I prefer the tandoori dishes at Kababeesh (incorrectly mentioned as Kabab Palace in a previous post) than Desi Village.
I usually rate an Indian restaurant by how well they're able to prepare their butter chicken(also known as chicken makhani in some restaurants) or their Chicken Tikka Masala. These are two dishes restaurants aren't supposed to go wrong with.... If I like the way restaurants make the above dishes, I then try the Karahi Chicken (which very few restaurants can make well unless they have an authentic Punjabi or Pakistani chef)...Several restaurants turn out to be owned by South Indians with maybe south Indian chefs,, and they can't really master the way Karahi Chicken is made...
I will visit these other restaurants..but my Indian friends and colleagues for some reason have told me that they didn't relish Himalayan and Royal India as much...but I don't want to take their word for it!
Maybe, we should form a culture vulture group to try out these new places!!
Sertasheep - thanks for taking the time to explain to the rest of us more of your background. You may be the most useful and knowledgeable resource for our little group here, most of whom don't have the background you do. But each of us are judging our culinary experience from our own backgrounds, so in a sense, it's all relative. But if you read posts on various threads on Indian restaurants in the PA area, I think you will be able to get a general consensus on those places that do a better job than others (so far, most people rate Aman's as healthy but without the richer flavor found elsewhere, and ATOI normally gets very good reviews).
I'd suggest you do try ATOI, Himalayan, and Royal India, but to go there knowing that they are going to get some dishes done right, and others lacking. To some degree, I think they all cook food, particularly for the buffets, not for individuals like yourself (although these restaurants attract Asian Indians to a large degree as well as local Philly people), but with the American palate in mind, so the spice may be toned down a bit for your preference at the buffet (I find that of these restaurants, the spice at Gateway to India in Frazer is the mildest in heat.)
I'd be surprised if you don't enjoy Himalayan's sambar (served at the weekend lunch buffet. Their other dishes may be milder than what you are used to. I have had much better saag paneer elsewhere, in fact, I do not like the mush they make out of it.
(Gateway to India does a very good job with it, along with Channa dishes.)
Relatively speaking, among the restaurants we have discussed on this thread, if you are like most Chowhounder posters, you will find that ATOI, H, and RI offer more flavorful dishes than the other ones, at least at the buffet. I've heard that for dinner, they do a decent job, too.
It would be interesting to know why your friends didn't like Royal India or Himalayan. I have posted before which dishes they didn't get right for my taste. Even ATOI for some reason (since you emphasized Chicken makhani as a dish to judge restaurants by) serves a dal makhani that to my taste is just plain tasteless and could easily be enhanced. If you go there and sample it for the buffet, I'd be interested to get your review of it. All I know, is that I have had it elsewhere made with red kidney beans along with the black lentils, made thicker with a touch of tomato and spices. ATOI's version is just plain tasteless to me, unlike every other dish they do. Maybe there serve it that way for people who prefer to stay away from the spicier dishes. From your background, it would be interesting to hear how dal makhani is preferred by Asian Indians, and if the preparation differs from region to region (ATOI may be making it according to its culinary tradition, but given what they do to other dishes, I just don't get what they do to the dal makhani, which is nothing.)
Since you brought up the Pakistani connection, is it true that Pakistani food is generally hotter? - that's what I've heard.
on recent trips, i have to agree with you on the dal makhani @ ATOI. what happened?!! i think they've gone a bit more mainstream and have turned down the spice levels on quite a few of their dishes, but most especially this one.
did you notice the salad around to the back of the buffet is now a plain salad, instead of being doused with that spicy dressing? darn.
re: pakistani food... i don't know how authentic this place is, but yesterday i paid a visit to the indian/pakistani stall in the reading terminal market. for the record, it wasn't spicy. it wasn't all i was hoping for, either. i think some of the aforementioned indian restaurants in the western suburbs have simply set the bar too high for me.
next up: jaipur. why have none of us been here yet??!
Where is Jaipur, by the way? And where is Aman? I also can't find ATOI -- I think it may be too far from my Exton office for a lunch hour visit. Any guidance from those who know the area better is most welcome.
By the way, I must defer to the superior knowledge of this board. My lunch at Devi today (non-buffet, for a change) was just barely above sub-par, as many of you had written. I was a big defender of Devi back in July when I began working in Exton (I'm a vegetarian, so I was giddy when I discovered Devi), but my experience there has been hit and miss -- with a growing emphasis on the misses... the last buffet experience went as far as downright inedible! Today's Vegetable Kurma was spicy (all heat, no flavor) and with a distinct coconut taste, but otherwise completely tasteless, the sauce overly watery. The alu partha bread wasn't bad though. Himalayan may be a longer drive from my job, but it's worth every precious drop of gasoline to get there. Their vegetarian dishes are a delight every time. (Note: if you're dining solo, bring cash - they don't take credit cards under $10, irregardless of tip.) AGTI is nice too. My one trip there was disappointing from a vegetarian standpoint... I don't like okra, so my only option was a potato-heavy dish -- I'm not carbophobic, but I sort of felt that potatoes over rice with a side of bread might be pushing the envelope. Regardless, I would try it again, probably. The staff members were very, very nice. I haven't been to Royal India yet -- the inclusion of "Chinese" on the sign threw me off a bit. But based on some of what I've read in the more recent posts to this thread, I will definitely give it a try.
FWIW, my husband and I really love Desi Village - but we've only been there twice. The first time we both ordered the specials of the day and they were simply amazing. We were blown away. When we talked to the staff, they also offered to make any Indian dish we wanted, whether or not it was on the menu. If you happen to be in the area, at least give it a try.
A last question: I live in Lansdowne, and my husband hates trekking into Center City. Is anyone aware of good Indian in the nearby suburbs? We went to a small one in Ardmore about 4 years ago (Can't remember the name of it), but we were unimpressed. The flavor was just OK, and the portion sizes were incredibly stingy. So far Desi Village in KofP has been the best we've found within reasonable distance from home. Any suggestions appreciated.
Taste of India is in the Gateway Shopping Center, 297 East Swedesford Road, Wayne PA.
I have been uniformly disappointed with the Ardmore PA Indian offerings.
aman is up in a nondescript shopping center in ?norristown? next to a sally's beauty supply... and i think there was a grocery store in the shopping center as well. i believe it was directly off of 202. frankly i thought it was "just okay" though i've only been there once and that was for take-out dinner. i thought cream was a bit overused and there wasn't enough spice and flavor otherwise.
ATOI as mentioned is in the gateway shopping center, right off of rte 202. if you are on 202-south, get off at the 252-north exit and it's in that massive shopping center on your right. your biggest landmarks are the tjmax, trader joe's and outback. it's right next to the outback.
jaipur - have not been, so can't comment on location.
you know, i don't think i've been to desi village either (i'd just previously assumed you all were mis-typing "devi" up in exton!)... where is this located?
Desi Village is just across from the mall, on S. Gulph Rd. in K of P (same small complex as the Peace a Pizza, if I recall correctly). By the way, it's a BYOB, but there just happens to be a wine & spirits shoppe next door, which is is quite convenient! Better directions may be on the website www.desi-village.com/
cool, thanks! i'll have to head out... maybe tomorrow, since it is payday!
hey, this just in: my cube neighbor reports that there is a "grand opening <something> indian" over in the chesterbrook shopping center. i have not been over to verify this yet. did taj mahal change ownership? is there competition? did they ever put a new restaurant in that cursed wild tuna / tupelo spot??
rabidog and mckerr and others - I will try to respond to the interesting comments made in the last few days by you and others.
First, Aman's is in Norristown in the plaza where KMart is (still there?) bordering 202 and Germantown Pike. As rabidog and others have said, the food there is healthy but bland.
Second, ATOI has changed a bit, as you noted with some dishes spiced down, like the dal makhani, which except for the two times red kidney beans were added, is tasteless. I was there recently, and they did have a punjab salad which was mildly spiced, a traditional lettuce, cucumber, carrot, pepper salad. But what surprised me was the presence of a third salad (last few times I had been there, there were only two salads, which is still one more than some other Indian restaurants), which looked very simple - just a bit of chick peas mixed with some nondescript chopped up greens. I tried it as an experiment, and had to return for seconds. It was one of those signature ATOI dishes that are memorable. How can a plain chick pea salad be that compelling? This dish happened to be a duplicate of the same spicy salad the place used to make with their chicken salad. It was a combination of what looked and tasted like cilantro, mint, red onions, chili powder, and some other ingredients.
And on this day, they resurrected the tomato soup they used to make. A card listing ingredients was sitting in front of the soup bowl. I had never seen this before. They said, that among other ingredients, were garlic and cream. Glad they admitted that they do use cream. Didn't know they used garlic. I added some additional black pepper from my table to the soup, and I was brought back to the glory days of the early 2000s when ATOI soups were to die for. I did notice, as you said, Rabidog, that their Mulligatawney was not richly spiced the last few times I had it here. As a matter of fact, the soup I had at Royal India, and the sambar were spiced more richly than ATOI's Mulligatawney. But on this day, no one is going to touch their version of tomato soup (although earlier in the year, Royal India came close!).
On this day, the alu gobi was full of spice. The Carrot Halwa and Mango pudding contained less sugar, which is ok. Not as rich as what they have done in the past, but no one says you should accustomed to excess. The carrot halwa reminded me of what a nice and extra touch ATOI sometimes gives to its dishes ... there were large pieces of cashews in the cashew halwa. I mean, cashews!!
Yes, Devi Village in King of Prussia, is in fact, named, Desi Village. It is easy to miss if you don't know where to look. It sits on the SIDE of a small plaza. Look for the Peace a Pizza (or whatever the pizza placed is called) restaurant in the front ... Desi Village is on the other side of the building. Or ... look across the street for the Wawa.
Talking about locations ... Jaipur is in the shopping plaza across from the Hilton Hotel containing ACME supermarket. In this center are three sets of buildings. To the right is ACME, to the far left and sitting perpendicular to ACME is a mexican restaurant (Baja something or other, supposed to offer very fresh and healthy Mexican food.) and the now closed Tower Records. In between is a very large furniture store, and to the left, adjacent to the store and a bank, is Jaipur.
And last, yes, Taj Mahal in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center has been reincarnated as Bawarchi. I called the restaurant and told that the cooking is spicier than the former Taj Mahal. The selection of vegetarian dishes for the lunch buffet that day didn't seem to match what was offered at ATOI. I passed by the restaurant later in the day, and it looked similar to the old Taj Mahal. The buffet tables for the food had a similar layout as the former restaurant. To attract more customers, this place will have to be different than the less spicy Taj, and promote themselves more. I have seen no ads for this place unlike mailers and ads informing of ATOI, Himalayan, and Royal India. H, and ATOI have ads that allow one to lhave the lunch buffet for $1 off the regular price. Royal India's ads have yet to give a discount for the lunch buffet, but that is not expected, since its regular price is $1 less than these other places. For variety of food, it's hard for any places to touch ATOI, Royal India, and Himalayan.
mckerr - interesting comments about Devi in Exton. Other posts on this place have not been too complimentary. I had passed by Royal India also because of the sign referring to Indo/Chinese cuisine. Normally there are one or two Chinese flavored Indian dishes. I normally don't have them, since there are other dishes to enjoy. Interestingly, on this day that I was at ATOI, there was some Chinese noodle dish. Quite a few people were enjoying it. I guess for a change it's not bad to include that, but surely there are other Indian dishes that could be included in place of a pasta dish. I've noticed more than a few times, ATOI throws in some Chinese influenced dish. Perhaps Indo/Chinese is an increasingly popular trend. Maybe they include that for customers who want some food other than pure Indian.
Your comment about Gateway to India - if you don't like okra and that was one of the veg dishes, and the other veg dishes were heavily potato influenced, you caught them on a day that didn't match your interests. I have had that happen to me a few times. If you go there when they have saag paneer, a green bean dish, cauliflower, chana masala, you will enjoy.
Or if you can afford to, go there for dinner and order the vegetarian platter, or maybe you can do so during the day. Hope you catch Royal Indian on a day that they have foods you like. 50 to 75% of the time it works for me. But if you don't like their selection, you know there are two other similar places within one half mile of each other (RI and GTI).
And for the record (there were posts on another board about tipping), the tips at ATOI get spread among the staff. (From what I saw, more than a few customers did not leave any tip.) On the day I was there, as soon as my water glass was below half-filled, a server came by to fill it. I think management does a great job with educating the servers to consider it a top priority to keep glasses filled with water at all costs. One aspect of the service that the new people need to be aware of is that when plates are being collected, to not place other already collected plates on the table next to your plate. It's a small thing, but when you are eating, you don't necessarily want such visitors next to your plate. I have had this happen to me several times. It's a simple matter of awareness of space. But given the affordability of the place and seeing how hard these people work there, I try to just offer my table as a resting place for the used goods being transported.
I went to A Taste of India for the lunch buffet today. Kind of expensive at $12.65 including tax, but not bad considering the selection. There were 4 veg curries and 3 non-veg curries, plus tandoori chicken and chicken shishlak. They also had a few appetizers, salad, and dessert.
Overall, it was ok. The best curry was the vegetable korma - creamy, but the cream didn't overwhelm the dish - and it tasted great. The chicken tikka masala was a little too runny, and was just ok taste-wise (the spices seemed a little off - as did the taste of the tandoori chicken). The naan was a little tough, but the rice was good. For desserts, the ras malai was probably the best dish. The gulab jamun tasted good, but they were a little tough.
I think I was disappointed b/c I was expecting better - but I do not feel like I wasted my money.
In the future, I probably won't go back (since I live about 20 min away), and I'll probably go to Food Castle in Bensalem whenever I have a craving for Indian buffet. The price is about the same, but the selection and quality is much better at Food Castle.