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Mar 29, 2008 02:07 PM

Buffet Maharaja: Can Indian food be bland?

Yes, apparently it can!

I found myself at Buffet Maharaja for lunch this week, now reopened after a fire earlier on in the year. The setting nice if somewhat unoriginal, and the place is very clean. The buffet if large, and there are a lot of choices of dishes, including the usual selection of non-Indian food (like pizza) for those who didn't want Indian cuisine. The place is packed! Of note, there were very few visible minorities there. Perhaps this was a clue.

Started with samosa, onion bahji and pakora with tamarind sauce. The samosa was a bit excessively doughy, and the potato filling bland. The bahji and pakora were good, it is hard to go wrong with deep-fried items. Tamarind sauce was very good, also hard to screw that up.

I blew off the salad bar and went on to a mixture of curries with rice and naan. The naan was very good, they make it in a tandoor oven, and it is very fresh and delicious. Rice is good, but nothing special. Butter chicken was tender, but the sauce was thin and uninteresting, although you could taste a lot of butter. Aloo gobi, vegetable curry, green beans with potato, all mild and a bit bland. Eggplant was bland but bitter, very disappointing. The spinach was pleasantly surprising. I took some out of guilt (I felt I needed green vegetables given my recent culinary excesses), but it looked unappealing and I thought it would be bitter. Instead, it was smooth, creamy and very flavourful. I ended up going for seconds on the spinach. Lamb with lentils, bland, but at least the lamb tasted like lamb and was very tender. The lamb vindaloo was very spicy hot, but underneath the spice, it was bland. There were not a lot of other flavours to give this dish depth behind the initial wallop of chile.

I then went onto dessert. The jelabi was inedible, the texture was completely wrong and unappealing. Gulab Jaman was very good. i also sampled some of the burfi, which was acceptable. I took a tiny spoonful of rice pudding, it had a nice floral rose flavour. Finished off with a couple cubes of jello (sorry, I like jello, and I only ever get it at buffets). The Jello was Jello, no surprises.

Needless to say, I did not try every dish offered. But I tried enough to get an idea. All of the food (with the exception of the jelabi - you really need to get jelabi from Pushab's when it is fresh - wow) was edible and seemed fairly fresh. Nothing was greasy, or badly cooked, or tough. But I was shocked to associate the word "bland" with a cuisine that one would think would be immune to this condition. I got the sense that the kitchen had dumbed down the spices to appeal to the business suits that favor this place. Too bad, I get the sense that the food in this place could be quite good if they dared to increase the spices (and I don't mean hot spice, I just mean any spice, like cumin, turmeric, etc.)

Coincidently, I had a chance to have some curries from Golden the day after. Now I know some on this board feel that Golden's curries are a bit sweet for their liking. I understand this. But what was very interesting was how very complex the flavour profiles of their curries were compared to Buffet M. It was a world of difference. You may not like their flavour profile, it might be too sweet for you. But at least you can say there was a lot of flavour. I'm afraid I'll have to pass on Buffet M in the future. But I don't think they'll miss the business, seems bland is very popular here.

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  1. Is that the big place on Rene Levesque at Guy?
    I was forced to go there a few years back, and found most things seemed to be roughly the same shade of murky brown, and couldn't say there was a very wide range of flavours, as most everything tasted roughly the same.
    Completely absent was the usual complexity of good Indian food. No coriander stood out, cumin never showed up, and cardamom just plain stayed home.

    1 Reply
    1. re: bomobob

      That is the place. Looks like nothing has changed. It is astoundingly busy.

    2. Buffet Maharaja ..... hmmm... I suggest that you look under the sneeze guard canopy above the beef curry at the end of the row of steam tables.

      I had the misfortune of ending up there for lunch a couple years back and was wondering why the steam that was condensing under the canopy was dripping brown liquid into the beef curry (and all the other curries in that steam table)...... I almost fainted when Ii found that the brown liquid was rust from an old fluorescent fixture that was rusting under the canopy... never went back again and never will.

      My pick is Curry House on Bishop. It is far more reliable, and the food is cooked fresh.

      1. IMHO, Buffet Maharajah is a disgrace to indian cuisine. It obviously caters to people who know nothing about what the food is supposed to taste like. Is Curry House also a buffet?

        2 Replies
        1. re: hungryann

          Curry house is a la carte all the way.

          Why would anyone want to eat at a buffet???

          Ben the owner is a really nice guy, but be wary of his stock tips.... Clearly if they were that excellent, he would not be running the Curry House...

          1. re: fedelst1

            "Why would anyone want to eat at a buffet???"

            Many reasons! If you are only one or two people, a buffet lets you eat a variety of foods without ordering a crazy amount of food. A buffet lets you try things that you would never order a whole dish of, and so it encourages experimentation ("is vindaloo really that spicy? Do I like Paneer?"). And it is fast, you start to eat right away, so if you are in a hurry it is a great way to eat a hot meal quickly. If you have people with very different tastes in food, you have a better chance of pleasing everyone with a big buffet selection ( because you are never going to convince that other person to order the family style squid stir-fry dish, and they are going to insist on Sweet and sour chicken balls). Plus a buffet is one of the few places I can get my red jello fix...

            I have had a few really good Indian buffets in the past, and they can be fun. East India Company on Queen Mary was really good (sadly they are closed). I also fondly recall a great buffet in Durham North Carolina, small selection but delicious. It can be done. But the signal-to-noise ratio is high in the buffet category, and so I really find information from other Chowhounds useful to help me decide whether to try a place or not. Hence the post. And now I know that Curry House in the same area might be a better choice than settling for this buffet. That's what Ch is about, isn't it? The dissemination of food information?

        2. The saag (spinach) dishes at Indian buffets are often the most neglected, yet most delicious, in my opinion. The location that now houses Marche 27 was formerly Maison Tandoori. For their $7.95 lunch buffet, I'd often stuff myself on spinach and naan alone :o

          I like how you apologetically ate the Jell-o :) I'm a tad intrigued about what an Indian "surprise" twist to Jell-o could be now though. The strawberry is laced with cayenne? The lemon is spiced with bay leaves and turmeric? Hmm...

          5 Replies
          1. re: afoodyear

            Oh if only jello was that interesting... no it was straight jello. I think jello is offered at buffets as a safe dessert choice for kids. The reason I like jello is because I never got jello as a kid. Not on the Korean repertoire apparently. So now I love it.

            Hmm: perhaps the next fusion darling? Southeast Asian jello? You already buy mango and coconut and honeydew melon flavoured gelatin desserts in any Asian grocery store. But we could experiment and throw in spices, as you say.

            1. re: moh

              I am thinking 50s style savory jello with kimchi. You know, poor man's aspic.

              1. re: emerilcantcook

                Awesome!!! You know, there are over 200 types of kimchi. I think we should collaborate on a cookbook, Jello Kimchi Recipes For the Ages. Perhaps we could also ask Martin Picard to work on some jello fois gras recipes and do some kind of Montreal themed book.

                1. re: moh

                  Now that's one specific niche market... The Be-All, End-All Book for People Interested in Quebecbois Variations of Gelatinized Kimchi and Foie Gras by moh and emerilcantcook, with foreword and inspiration by Martin Picard.

                  1. re: afoodyear

                    Why stop at kimchi? You two should develop an entire line of jello foie gras banchan. Can you say franchise? French Canadian Korean theme restaurants? I feel privileged to be present at the birth of a new food empire.

          2. If you want fantastic Indian food and are willing to make a little excursion out to the West Island, there is the best Indian restaurant in Montreal called Bombay Chupatti at the corner of Sources Boulevard and Gouin Boulevard. It is small and fairly tacky inside but the owner/server is like the Indian mother you never had and the butter dosa masala (a thin, crispy lentil flour crepe stuffed with a vegetarian mix of curried potato and peas served with lentil dipping sauce, as well as the usual coriander/mint yogurt sauce) is honestly a taste of Indian heaven. The samosas are delicate triangles unlike the monstrous deep fried ones most Indian restaurants have and the curries are never bland. Do yourself a favor and make the trek because it is well worth it.

            5 Replies
            1. re: onlydelicious

              Ah, Onlydelicious, you are a wise one! A wonderful suggestion indeed! I am already very aware of the joys of Bombay Choupati, and agree this would be an excellent antidote for my recent buffet experience. Don't forget the fabulous fruit chat and the great goat curry.

              1. re: moh

                I am an Indian and I live in New York, and I love the Indian food, and I know how does Indian food taste.. My mother owns an Indian restaurant in New York City called Banana Leaf, this is how I have that fortune to taste so many different kinds of Indian dishes. I often visit Montreal for my business perpose, I have been to so many Indian restaurant in Montreal, but the experience in Maharaja was the worse. I am ashamed to call the restaurant is an Indian restaurant. Maharaja disgrace the reputation of Indian food. People from any where in the world, love Indian food because of its flavor and taste etc. Maharaja makes the worse food ever, their tandoori was raw, and some curry just taste like water. And its funny that I saw there were some people inside the restaurant eating that cheap buffet with a higher price. I have been to some other resturant in Montreal, they were pretty good, and the price range was almost equal to Maharaja. As an Indian food speciallist, as an Indian, I am telling my friends, quite Maharaja. If you want to explore the best Indian food taste go to some other places in Montreal and enjoy the flavor of spice and the smell, and the taste of Indian food. Indian cooking is as god to our culture and I will not like that Maharaja in Montreal is disgracing it, and ruining our great Indian food culture.....

                1. re: Chris Khan

                  I remember one of the names of the restaurant that I recently I visited is Le Rajput... try it they have pretty good food.. I guess its in Prince Arther Street...All I remember I went to a night club after dinner called A SIDE right in next block

                  1. re: Chris Khan

                    Uhhh . . . the words "buffet" and "Indian" together in the same sentence make me cringe. The thought alone of other people poking around (sneezing on their spoons) and re-awakening hours-old food make me want to throw up a little in my mouth.

                    The fact that the place is packed merely gives credence to the belief that most diners are oblivious and just want to spend the least amount possible. It's so sad, because upscale joints like Devi on Crescent suffer, even as they serve completely fresh ingredients in a sanitary environment, but go largely empty.

                    Chris, I was born in India and I'm just going t have to agree 100% with you. If ever a restaurant needed to be shut down, even for just humane reasons, it would be Maharajah. C'mon, it burned down once -- can't they take a hint?

                    1. re: tonbo0422

                      I have no significant issues with buffet. I have had some really fabulous Indian buffets in other places. If the food is good, I'm ok with buffet. There are many Indian dishes that do just fine in a buffet format, they get better as the flavours meld and combine with time. In some ways, curries are the perfect buffet food.

                      But bad buffets - shudder. All I see is complete waste of food.

                      I agree with Chris Khan, Maharaja disgraces the marvel of Indian cuisine. So much variety, so much tradition, so delicious. I might be ok if they tried to dumb it down a bit to appeal to a more conservative audience, but how do you make it bland???? It boggles my mind, how they have managed to accomplish this?