Burgers and Fries beware. We've got ethnic, buffet style. Since its opening, Taj Palace has stood out as the ONLY Indian eatery in town, but it also happens to produce some of the best Sag Paneer (spinach and cheese cubes in a spiced cream sauce) this side of New Delhi. I'll admit that I've never been lucky enough to eat in India, but of the food I've eaten in Indian communities in large American cities, Taj Palace holds its own.
For the last couple of years, Taj has offered a Friday and Saturday night buffet. It's a variation on the popular lunch buffet, featuring a bit more upscale items. For $14.95 you have a choice of unlimited amounts of sag paneer, lamb curry, homemade nan, lentil dahl, chicken tikka, sambar (thick lentil vegetable soup), aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower cooked with Indian spices), vegetable biryani (basmati rice with mixed vegetables) and malai kofta (vegetable and cheese balls in a yogurt sauce). Not only is this a smokin' deal, it's the best way for a novice to try Indian cuisine.
Often times in ethnic restaurants, it is hard to tell what some of the items really are. The descriptions are vague and sometimes sound alike. Rather than risking an order on a whole menu item, the buffet is perfect for sampling many of the items on the menu. Once you hone in your favorites, owner Pullareddy "Reddy" Lakireddy will be happy to tell you the names and recommend other things on the menu that you may like.
Reddy originally went to the buffet on weekend nights when he brought in the belly dancers for entertainment. It would get so busy - and diners didn't like being interrupted by wait staff while they were watching the dancers - that it made table service difficult. Given the lunch buffet's popularity, it seemed the logical way to go.
You can still order off the menu, as my good friend who he likes his Lamb Vindaloo ridiculously spicy does. Most of the dishes on the buffet are mild, but can be spiced up with a little hot and sweet chutney, or cooled down with some creamy riata (cucumber yogurt sauce). There are a variety of condiments (Indian food is big on condiments) and even a sweet meat, like gulab jamun (sweet-cream fried balls in syrup with rosewater and cardamom).
The buffet is also a good way to introduce your youngins' to Indian fare. For $5 they can pick and choose between all the ethnic dishes or live off nan and fresh fruit. Of the eight kids that were in our party on the last First Friday, seven of them were happy with the flavors and textures, especially if a mango lassi (like a mango yogurt smoothie) accompanies the meal.
Although buffets can carry negative connotations, Taj Palace's approach makes the menu more accessible. I've found new favorites that I otherwise wouldn't have discovered. Combine that with some inspired belly dancing and a festive atmosphere, add a big Flying Horse Indian beer, and you've got yourself a cultural experience and a fantastic meal all rolled into one.
Taj Palace Weekend Buffet - $$
917 NW Wall Street, 330-0774.11:30AM - 2:30 PM, 5-9:30 PM Everyday