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Mar 4, 2011 08:12 PM

More on Indian lunch buffets in western suburbs

Hadn't been to Taste of India since last year and given my recent trip to two West Philly Indian restaurants over the weekend found my experience interesting.

What struck me most about Sitar and New Delhi during lunch was how crowded they were! Sitar has limited space and the number of people filling up the space made the lunch buffet and "dining" a challenge. It had a nice variety of food and a limited salad bar. Hadn't been to New Delhi in a very long time and I was struck by the spaciousness of the arrangement of the buffet display. The salad bar was separate from the rest of the selections and had a nice variety. As with Sitar, there was a decent variety of food. I was also struck at how noisy (high decibel level) the place was. In prior years, the smell at New Delhi was not enticing. This time, the aroma struck me as being much more appealing.

The experience inspired me to re-visit Taste of India. The interior quickly informs the visitor that this is a place to dine - the walls, decor, tablecloths, etc. create that ambience. But for some reason, this restaurant in particular (unlike Chinnar), attracts a very loud crowd. I have been here many times, and have experienced many individuals, not just sitting in groups of many people, but in tables for two, talking and laughing with no care for their voices overpowering those around them. The place has gotten to be consistently very noisy. Maybe Mondays and the weekends (attracting more families) are quieter.

What struck me as different about TOI than the other restaurants I had recently visited among other factors was the number of desserts on hand. Both Sitar, New Delhi, Spice Kitchen, Chinnar, and others, typically have two or three selections. In the middle of the week (and typical for TOI), the desserts consisted of fruit cocktail (canned), freshly cut up honeydew, custard pudding squares (with a flavor whose name I can't recall - it tasted somewhat similar to rosewater but more exotic), carrot halwa, kheer, jalebi, coconut burfi (fudge), rasgulla, and gulab jamun. (The coconut burfi was as one might expect, fudgelike, without too strong of a coconut flavor which did surprise me. The custard pudding squares were much more flavorful and had a better consistency than what I had at Spice Kitchen. The carrot halwa was too sugary and lacked the well-balanced mixture of carrot/butter/sugar/raisin/pineapple it had years ago. Years ago I had a halwa at Bawarchi which demonstrated to me how it can be made without being overpowered by sugar and butter. The honeydew, while not perfectly ripe, was appreciated for being a fresh alternative to other selections.)

On the day of my visit, there was no "Indian tea," just a table label for it, next to the filled container for mango juice (not lassi). There is no Indian restaurant in this area other than Royal India that offers the salad selections that TOI does (the main salad tray consisted of much more than iceberg lettuce). There is always a Punjabi style salad along with the mainstream iceberg lettuce selection.

TOI does a great job with its version of Mulligatawney soup which can be said to be a slightly spicy and very thick pureed lentil-like soup. I have been to TOI more than a few times where I have noticed that the lunch buffet selection lacks a stand alone green or healthy vegetable entree. With the number of selections, it amazed me that there was no such vegetable dish (other than the salad selections). On this day, the only stand-alone green vegetable dish (other than the chutneys,and salads) was the mutter paneer (which offered peas).

I look forward to at least one dish containing spinach, okra, zucchini, cauliflower (white but healthy!). Peas only go so far! The sauce that the mutter paneer was in reminded me of the sauce one finds in the chicken tikka masala here - thick, rich, and VERY ADDICTING. (I would bet that this sauce is extremely high in fat content. The cream content is prabably very very high which explains why it is so delicious. I found myself able to only eat small amounts of this dish due to the richness of the sauce, which didn't help given that I was seeking some green vegetables to balance the other food!)

TOI's tandoori chicken for some reason comes out with more of a barbecue flavor than other restaurants I have been to. After I have had the chicken here and have it elsewhere, it is like other places fail to "finish" off the preparation/cooking of the chicken!

I am no fan of TOI's version of pakoras. I have had pakoras at Chinnar and they resembled what I associate with authentic pakoras, deep fried where the coating from the besan flour had a solid but light consistency around a lightly spicy and chewy vegetable interior - often what is labeled as "vegetable fritters" is little more than deep fried mush or breading around a very tiny filling. Today's version was labeled as "vegetable fritters," and they looked like a mush mixture that had been breaded and deep fried. If you have had good pakoras, you know the difference.

There was a potato dish which looked like roasted/boiled potato sections that had been coated in some spice and/or herb mixture. They were very good and wholesome, not overly fried and complimented the other dishes very well.

There were many chicken dishes to choose from. There was what tasted like a combination of a vegetable biryani and an asian-inspired vegetable rice dish.
Basmati rice had been prepared in an oil process and was heavier than what gets at Spice Kitchen, Chinnar, and Bawarchi. Naan was very good.

So, with all these dishes, is it not reasonable to expect at least one stand-alone green vegetable dish? I think so.

TOI's weekday lunch buffet is almost $10 and for the selection one gets there, the price is more than reasonable. Nearby restaurants charge less, but one is getting fewer selections. I have said before, that what drives me to return to TOI is its stronger flavors and larger number of selections. What drives me to not return more frequently is the lack of more stand along vegetable dishes, which seem more prevalent at places like Chinnar. (TOI normally has at least either saag paneer or alu gobi. On the day that I was there, I did not consider the mutter paneer an adequate substitute as the "stand-alone" vegetable dish, considering that its weekday buffet prices are a bit higher. )

After I finished the meal, I found myself needing to drink water for hours afterwards. It seemed like only vanilla ice cream was able to balance whatever craving I had to quench the sodium content from lunch.

I do appreciate the varieties, but also know that ordering off the menu or going to a finer restaurant (if you don't have the good fortune of being able to prepare this at home) would get one some selections not found at a buffet such as shrikhand or kulfi.

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  1. thanks for a detailed update! i do miss that place and your post takes me back to the days when i worked out that way and had a car. in fact, TOI is probably the ONLY thing i miss about not driving! recently, fueled by the discovery of the international food grocer next to the 7-11 at 42nd and walnut in west philly + a general spice underwhelming at many of the area's restaurant offerings, i've been cooking at home. i spent the entire day yesterday shopping and cooking - rented a carshare to haul my purchases across the city, and made a bang-up vegetable biryani i can't stop eating. :) i posted the recipe link + all about my cooking adventure on the home cooking board if you're interested. i was amazed at the variety of spices, pickle and all else at the store i mentioned. i treated myself to all new spices, and opening the fresh jars and bags upon returning home reawakened my taste buds. i only wish they had a larger produce section. i still have yet to visit the nearby store, rice and spice. that's next...

    5 Replies
    1. re: rabidog

      Yes, I know of that store you referenced. You are fortunate to live close to it!

      If you don't feel like cooking (and I will look for your recipe on the home cooking board!), why not try some of the frozen entrees the store carries? I noticed that the brand Deep (somthing or other) now has a line of "Healthy" entrees made with olive oil. They look good. If you want spicy, look for the "Swad" brand of boil in a bag dishes. I think this store may be discontinuing the line or is not carrying it anymore. I will be trying another brand called "Haldiram's," which is supposed to be good.
      My favorite canned ready to eat brand is Jyoti which this store carries, located in the front right side of the store.

      As you know the store also has a takeout area. Since you are so close to other nearby restaurants, why not try New Delhi two blocks away?

      Speaking of TOI, do you know its weekend buffet is now less expensive than during the week? My one complaint as I mentioned before, is that my last few visits there have been when there has been mostly starch and protein dishes (kofta balls, rice, bread, potatoes, chicken) rather than more stand alone vegetable dishes. I know if I go to Bawarchi, Chinnar, Royal India, or Himalayan, there will be at least one or two stand alone vegetable dishes. The trade off is the richness and otherwise variety (salads, desserts, and soup) at TOI.

      With all the variety of products at the store, hopefully you can duplicate some of the dishes you would have at the restaurants and open your own restaurant! Maybe you can get one of your friends to drive you out to TOI for its weekend buffet, or to share the cost of the carshare.

      1. re: FelafelBoy

        oh, i'm definitely all about the packaged stuff there too! the udipi (green box) mysore masala dosas are awesome! i broil them under close watch in my little toaster oven and it renders them perfect. definitely gonna try that other stuff too.

        i've done new delhi a couple times and it's just left me... cold. for me, doesn't stand up to the suburban buffet offerings. and lately i've been frequenting chola in NYC ~ not to get too far off topic, but should you find yourself up there, i think you would appreciate that buffet more than anyone! TON of spicy and flavorful buffet offerings - veggie and meat, north and south, tons of soup and ... wait for it... pani puri! fresh bread brought to the table. and if that's not enough, delectable complimentary morsels are served tableside as well - samosa chaat, bhel puri, dosas, tandoori chicken. i'd say it's worth the trip to NYC in itself.

      2. re: rabidog

        Recent trip to Chinnar reminded me of the greater variety of vegetarian stand alone dishes in its lunch buffet versus recent experiences at TOI. A recent visit included an offering of chana masala, vegetable jalfrezi, a potato-green bean-green pepper dish, pakoras in a yogurt sauce, dal makhni, and saag paneer. A vegetarian could have easily chosen a variety of dishes to enjoy. At TOI, there is a more limited selection of such dishes, although its mulligatawney soup is a stand alone vegetarian dish that is far superior to soups I have had at other places with the exception of Royal India. (Bawarchi's sambar used to be thick - the last few times I have been there, the soup has been thinner. Years ago I was at Devi in Exton, and its thick sambar was excellent. On the weekends, TOI's sambar is very tasty, although perhaps too spicy for most American palates - as with Bawarchi's preparation, it is not for the faint of heart or for people who do not like sour or strong Indian spice flavors - the mulligatawney is more mild without sacrificing very pleasant flavor.)

        The saag paneer had very few pieces of paneer, and while the saag had a hint of spices and flavor, it was better than I have had here in the past. I would rate it passable and pleasant vs. my previous rating as unacceptable. The potato dish also struggled for flavor, but what impressed me most about this dish was the fact that it wasn't drenched in oil, but impressed me as having come from a roasting process. Combined with the channa masala and saag paneer, its drier consistency worked well. (I didn't touch the pakoras/kafta in the yogurt cream sauce). The vegetable jalfrezi was in a tomato sauce that was sweet and reminded me more of a Chinese-influenced dish than a jalfrezi I am familiar with as being "Indian." It was much too sweet for my taste and the vegetables in the dish seemed overcooked. Occassionally, Chinnar features a bean dish other than dal makhni, which I still find as one of the most tasteless and boring dishes offered at these buffets, whether it is here or at TOI. Once I had a dal makhni at Royal India that consisted of three different kinds of beans, and that preparation was the best makhni I have had at any of these Indian restaurants in this area. I don't know why these other restaurants can't make their dal makhni more interesting.

        As before, the pakoras at Chinnar were the real thing - not vegetable fritters. They were excellent.

        Chicken dishes consisted of curry, tikka masala, and tandoori. I had the tandoori, which consisted only of drumsticks (no thighs as what is also featured at TOI), which tasted only of a paprika covering, and didn't have the flavorful marinade and the barbecue coating I consistently get at TOI.

        The salad bar consisted of vegetables in separate containers - sliced green cabbage, carrots, cucumber, and a few other vegetables. The naan was the same as before - lacking the moistness one finds at Royal India and at TOI. Its chewiness after a short time made the bread less desirable.

        Off to the side were some interesting extras - a very spicy chicken hot and sour soup. If you like very spicy Chinese-type soups, you would have liked it very much. I had a cold, so its spiciness (Chinese spices) was very agreeable. Beside the soup was a large container holding what looked and tasted like vegetable lo mein, which was very good.

        Beverages included chai and mango lassi. Deserts included kheer, gulab jamun, and sliced fresh oranges. The mango lassi was very good and served as a satisfying dessert substitution.

        Pleasant Indian music was playing in the background and the servers were also pleasant.

        For a nice variety of Indian food, particularly north Indian vegetarian with some Chinese influenced dishes mixed in, as long as you aren't seeking much flavor and spiciness in your food, Chinnar is a very likeable place for a lunch buffet.

        1. re: rabidog

          Where can I find your post (rabidog's biryani) on the home cooking board? I don't see a search feature on the board. Can you provide a hyperlink, or a date for the post? Thanks.

          1. re: FelafelBoy

            oops! haven't been around in awhile. sorry for the late reply. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/697624 - detailed biryani story there. it is so fun to make, but i've made so many batches i think i need to swear off it for a few months!!!

        2. Thanks for posting these fantastic reviews! I love Indian food, but the only lunch buffet in this area I've been to is the Taste of India in the Gateway shopping center. Years ago, when I was an Indian food virgin, I thought it was the best thing ever. My last two trips were still good, but I remember the price had gone up several dollars, and perhaps because of that the quality and quantity of food didn't seem as great? I haven't been back in about a year or so, but I am definitely jonesing for some Indian lunch buffet now!

          Do you have one restaurant that really stands out above the rest, to recommend to me? Since I haven't been to any others, I've read your reviews thoroughly, but they seem to be mostly about pros and cons of each, and not any sort of hierarchy. Would you be able to pick one or two and tell me where to go? :) Thanks!

          1 Reply
          1. re: wisey22

            Revisited some Indian restaurants after being away.

            Bawarchi in Chesterbrook has raised its lunch buffet from the daily price of $9+ to $11, and $11+ to $13 on the weekend.

            Chinnar with tax is still about $9.50, and its food is still extremely bland. It is not cooked in much oil, which makes it less unhealthy, but the flavoring of its food is the most bland I have tasted of any Indian restaurant I have visited. If you want tasty Indian food, you are best off choosing another restaurant., Its chicken sweet'n' sour soup is very sour. The saag paneer looks overly green and has a strange taste. Their dessert selections consist only of gulab jamun, orange slices and soupy kheer. The host(s) are authoritarian about where a patron sits. They assertively direct single people and doubles to small tables away from the center of the restaurant. (At least the ambience is more pleasant than where such diners are directed to at Bawarchi.)

            Taste of India is still under $10 during the week and a bit over $11 on the weekend. Still very tasty and oily food. Sambar is very spicy and tasty. Oddly, on the weekends, they typically serve only one "vegetarian" dish other than the channa masala and the paneer tikka masala. I normally get my vegetarian fix from the channa masala, sambar, salad, and the one vegetarian dish (they rotate between alu gobi, bhindi masala, and saag paneer).

            I may try Desi Village again or take the drive out to Royal India. I don't expect I will revisit Chinnar for a long time.

            Taste of India
            348 N Dupont Hwy, Dover, DE 19901

          2. I have been going here for a while, but the price of the lunch buffet on weekdays kept going up to over $10. My wife and I decided to have lunch there last week and found that the it was under new management and the price of the buffet is now $7.95. As the owner said "there is a recession, so how can we charge high prices". The great thing is that the food is just as wonderful as it has always been. We have been back since and the items in the buffet change, offering a great variety to sample with each visit. If the price scared you away in the past, it is time to revisit. And if you have never been, it is some of the best Indian food you can find in the Main Line and Philadelphia area!

            khajuraho India
            12 Greenfield Ave, Ardmore, PA 19003

            1. Yes indeed, thank you for your comprehensive review on Indian restaurants in the greater Philadelphia area. We love Indian cooking and have established our taste only to the degree
              of knowing what we like and/or seems to be of good quality. Your comments offer opinions from
              the basis of experience and knowledge of the cuisine. We enjoy and value your reviews.

              1. Agree that Taste of India is probably the best buffet in the KOP area. I also like Spice Kitchen in Trooper and Dosa Chat House is good for Chicken Makhani, Chappatis, Dosas, Bhel and other chaat items as well as Indo-Chinese dishes.

                Unfortunately, my visit to Chinnar about a month ago left me wanting more - more flavor, more variety, more succulent chicken - you get the idea, not a pleasant experience other than the mango "juice" they serve,

                Taste of India
                348 N Dupont Hwy, Dover, DE 19901