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Bad experience w/ Punjab in Arlington?

My husband ordered takeout from Punjab in Arlington a few days ago. We usually dine in, but this time we wanted food at home. He ordered 4 entrees and requested mild spice since we have a 4 y.o.

Two of the 4 were mild, and the other two were suitable for an adult who likes spicy food.

I phoned and spoke with a woman, maybe a manager?, who repeatedly told me that this is the least spicy they can make the dishes ordered. The items could have been made more spicy if we'd wanted it so.

Well...as someone who is a good cook, this tells me two things about Punjab. One, Punjab premixes all spice combos and it premakes all sauces. Nothing is truly made to order. They can always add more spice to take it to another level. Two, Punjab doesn't care about its customers and their requests.

Has anyone else had this experience there? BTW, Royal India Bistro in Lexington Center will make dishes to order, as I have requested mild items so that my children can also enjoy the food. Mild does not equate with tasteless.

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  1. Is this review based on your experience or your 4 year olds? Because I might not severely flame a restaurant based on a toddler's palette.. as an adult, ordering adult foods, I have appreciated well flavored sauces at Punjab. I would posit that perhaps its better to build a flavor profile in a complex sauce for a 18+ year old than focusing on a toddler. My young son is still working on bananas and is not quite ready for aloo gobi

    1 Reply
    1. re: grant.cook

      Not sure how to even address your first question. Of course we (the adults) tasted it. It was spicy for us, the way we like it. My 4 yo isn't ready to type a review but she's been exposed to many types of food beyond bananas. Even our 12 year old found the 2 entrees too spicy, and she likes Indian, Mexican etc.

      1. re: padkimao

        Tandoori chicken - very good.
        Tandoori grilled veg. salad - good but they forgot the dressing that makes it so yummy.
        yellow lentil w/ squash - very spicy
        red beans - mild (aloo rajma?)
        Mutter paneer - very spicy and could see the reddish chili tint to the sauce

        There is no indication on the menu that these would be spicy. Again, they two were ok for adults who can tolerate spice. Not ok for young children.

      2. I've enjoyed the food at Punjab, and have gotten takeout many times. However, I've definitely experienced poor customer service (our 15 minute wait for takeout turned out to be 60, and no compensation) and challenges with spicing, although in the other direction.

        I feel like the trick here is ordering dishes that are mild by default (saag, korma, maybe biryanis) rather than hoping that they can tone down their vindaloo. If you already did that, then maybe time to pick a different restaurant. We've been enjoying delivery from The Kebab Factory.

        -----
        The Kebab Factory
        414 Washington St, Somerville, MA 02143

        5 Replies
        1. re: sdwr98

          More recently, we've been going to Royal India in Lex Ctr. They definitely aim to please (customizing the spices in any dish as well as very friendly service). My husband and I might go to Punjab on occasion, but we def won't be bringing our children. Over the past 12 years, we've always taken our children to restaurants (around the country and world) to expose them to various cuisines. But this is one restaurant that we clearly can't take children to.
          Again, what most surprised me is the customer service approach and the knowledge that the sauces are pre-made (hence the inability to leave out a pepper).

          -----
          Royal India Restaurant
          42 Merrimack St, Haverhill, MA 01830

          1. re: mortimerpickle

            Sorry to hear that Punjab wasn't able to meet your kids' taste buds. Personally though, I would be more suspect of indian places that made sauces to order. Most of the sauces take hours to make so that the full flavors can develop. Even a saag is 45 minutes of slow cooking.

            But, I'm really glad that you have other options for indian food. It sounds like your kids have adventurous palates.

            1. re: mortimerpickle

              Lets be clear about sauces: many are premade, even in higher end restaurants - to the point, made earlier in the service and held. You don't develop flavor in many sauces in 60 seconds in a microwave, and these arent' simple pan sauces. Spice mixes, those too... Nobody grinds and toasts a couple of tbsp of the spices in garam masala with each order, over a couple of hundred covers a night. Even the tasty hollandaise spooned over your poached eggs is probably sitting in a bain marie in the kitchen at most even higher end restaurants. Its pretty difficult to make sauces a la minute and have them turn out well for a restaurant with a lot of volume.

              The essence of this seems to be the overshot on the spices on two dishes for a takeout order that asked for mild spice - dishes you said you liked? Please appreciate that there's not a simple spice-o-meter a restaurant can use to gauge what a customer wants, and for an ethnic restaurant, with a diverse population, where an extra half-teaspoon might make the difference, its a tough thing to do. I was eating "mild" ma po tofu in Shanghai last year and it was pretty incendiary.. and I have to request more heat at local places for the same dish because they tone it down so much for Americans.

              Was this a takeout order during a weekend, where the kitchen may have been slammed? You are eating Indian - not knoshing at "Al's House of Dry White Toast." I suspect my son would curl his face up in mock agony if I fed him the bouillabaisse at Bistro du Midi, but I am not going to really flame them, imply they don't care about their customers, because they couldn't make the sauce less fishy..

              It seems to me unfair to state that the restaurant - a restaurant that has endured in Arlington for over a decade, has expanded, and been consistently busy - doesn't care about its customers. They may have mishandled a request (and did they offer, or did you press, for them to make it right?), but they served 4 dishes you said you liked, but just didn't feel comfortable serving to a small child. They might be worthy of some demerits here, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater..

              1. re: grant.cook

                VERY ELOQUENTLY SAID!

                As an aside, I have an 8 month old who LOVES spicy stuff.

            2. It sounds like you enjoyed the food, but your four year old did not. Kids will be picky. I have been to punjab and I think it does a nice job.

              4 Replies
              1. re: mortimerpickle

                You did say you requested mild food and were given hot food. They made a mistake, as does every restaurant on this planet. Seasoning and spices are tough to gauge, there's no easy measure.

                You also said "Two, Punjab doesn't care about its customers and their requests." - that I find an extreme statement and a pretty harsh critique of the motives of this restaurant, one not backed up very well by your toddler anecdote versus the decade of what I consider pretty solid service in Arlington.

                Too many posters here have a bad experience with someone not refilling their water glass and then go on to post something equating the restaurant with a culinary gulag. I would ask that you remember they can make a mistake and still care about their customer base...

                1. re: grant.cook

                  I don't think that posting a not so good experience is a flame. It is factually what happened, along with my hypotheses of the situation. What happened to discourse? Before castigating a poster, perhaps you should ask relevant questions about the experience, as one person did ("What did you order?") Will you also respond in kind to the poster who posts a bad experience about Figs on Charles St? Are people not allowed to share information and opinions?

                  We phoned in our order at 5:01 on Saturday according to the ticket. Was the kitchen slammed at 5:01? I don't know.

                  The printed ticket showed "Regular" for all dishes ordered.

                  I think what they could have done when we ordered 'mild for a young child' is offered an opinion e.g. "This is a bit spicy but I recommend..."

                  I think also that the manager, rather than repeating "This is the least spicy we make it" over 5 times as I asked questions, could have said something such as "Next time you bring your children and we'll help you order." or "Can we offer you one very mild dish next time you are here?" At the end of our conversation, when I asked her if there was anything she could do, she could have offered up something beyond "Sorry but this is the least spicy we can make it." I can only surmise from the manager's response that they don't take into account feedback from customers (i.e. customer service).

                  I've been eating in restaurants for most of my 45 years, so I am not a newcomer to dining at any level. Up until this occasion, my (also decade or since its inception) experience w/ Punjab was positive. As stated earlier, I might go back w/ only my husband, but I will not bring my children (one of whom likes spicy and the other does not). Our last experience at Il Casale with children had a very minor glitch. To rectify it, the restaurant took one app off the bill and gave us another dessert. We didn't ask for any of this. This is an example of very good customer service, which Punjab could have offered without our asking for a freebie. I don't think having a glass of water refilled at every request necessarily equates with excellent c.s.

                  1. re: mortimerpickle

                    To set the bar in the same place for a high end American/Italian bistro/fancy place and an ethnic place likely run by first-generation immigrants not entirely up to snuff on service American style is a recipe for disappointment.

                    Please avoid all of the good restos in Boston run by recent immigrants because I am sure if you do we will read your scathing reviews after the fact..

                    It's about the food for many of us on chowhound. An many ethnic places, to my personal delight, use spice far more liberally than say Il Casale.

                    Likewise many of us get bummed out when an American flames an ethnic place for making things too spicy (many patrons berate the owner in person) and the resto learns the risk of serving his or her cuisine as it should be prepared, for anyone who appears to be anglo / American.

                    Stay within your comfort zone. There are plenty of Il Casale's out there. But please avoid the Indian, Thai, Khmer, Sri Lankan, Mexican, Sichuan, Dongbei, and Burmese places because they surely will not meet your standards.

                    1. re: mortimerpickle

                      Now, aside from the pouting - castigating, really? A "severe verbal reprimand" is a bit over the top, like your original post. I mean, stop with the "Don't cry for me Argentina" act. What happened to discourse, well, people ignore what is being discussed to constantly repeat their own mantra.

                      A restaurant review is supposed to provide us, the public with useful information. Your above recent post does some of that well, and if that was the core of your original post, you'd have done a decent review.

                      But you took it further, stating an opinion, not a fact at all, that you surmised from this experience that Punjab, a restaurant you've praised many times in your posts as well, "doesn't care about its customers" - a statement I repeatly said is over the top and you have repeatedly dodged speaking about. I mean, I hope you don't hold yourself to the same standard as you hold Punjab - if you mispack your children's lunches one day, they are going to believe you've lost all feelings for them.

                      So what I take from this is when ordering Indian food from Punjab, careful with spice requests if a sensitive eater is involved, and perhaps check the food upon pickup if its takeout. That is a piece of information I can use.

                      The other stuff, well, a lot of it I discount. Punjab has a good record for myself and many friends in Arlington. I've seen too many people in restaurants playing the victim for some perceived slight and working the angle to get some recompense or making the server kowtow. Il Casale has always been a great place to eat, and their actions might very well be indicative of good customer service, but getting $15-20 in free food for a "very minor glitch" might imply something else indeed. There's always 3 sides to a story, the story of each side involved and then the truth..

                      BTW - careful ordering Thai and any italian dish with a "fra diavolo" as well.. and if you see the word "Buffalo" before any fried appetizerish food, stay away.