Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Indian Lunch Buffets: If Mango Grove Were Not This Delicious, Then This Could Be A Bad Idea

Plate One from Mango Grove's lunch buffet
I never need a second plate of food at lunch, but I would never walk away from Mango Grove without two -- and a dosa on the side.

I don't know how Indian restaurants decided to offer all-you-can-eat lunch buffets, but I know that they'd be a bad idea if they weren't so delicious.  A few years ago, I enjoyed the Royal Taj buffet when they had a chef on the line making the crepe-like dosas.  Last month, I took a break from errands to eat at Mango Grove, and I left just as stuffed and happy.

The Columbia restaurant fills a wall with food -- a salad bar, soups, a long line of vegetarian curries, then meat curries at the end.  There is just something fun in filling a plate with all kinds of flavors -- a fried appetizer, salty lentils, spicy eggplant, some tandoori chicken, a little lamb.  Then the waiter delivered hot naan and a personal-sized dosa stuffed with potato and spices.

Plate Two
Everything was tasty, but Mango Grove stands out even more because their buffet offered at least two dishes that I'd never tried before -- a pumpkin curry and a spicy "Chicken 65."  Really spicy.  They have a wall of options, so they don't need to cook for the lowest-common denominator.  Some dishes are mild, some are spicy.  Some are meat, some are veg.  I grazed more than a dozen items, but someone could happily eat just tandoori chicken, rice and hot bread.

I love Mango Grove -- and pick it as one of my Top 10 -- because they have ambition and pull off exceptional food.  They will give you two menus: straight vegetarian under "Mango Grove" and a mix of Indian and Indo-Chinese dishes under "Mirchi Wok."  Dishes are bright and flavored with the variety of spices and herbs that makes Indian cuisine.  Plus, I ate lots of delicious vegetarian dishes, so I left feeling good even though you can see in the photos that I ate an enormous amount.

I recommend the local Indian lunches if you have some time and want to talk.  At Mango Grove and Royal Taj, I know you won't compromise on great food -- even while you eat off the buffet.  I haven't eaten at other buffets, but I have written that Indian is one of the county's three deepest cuisines for great food.

For dessert, Mango Grove served a terrific rice pudding.  A few spoons of that kheer was all the sweet that I needed, and it was probably all that I could have eaten as well.

Where do you recommend for Indian buffets?  Any specific dishes to recommend?  Any techniques for eating well without falling asleep in the afternoon?

I can think of five other good Indian restaurants in Columbia -- House of IndiaMango GroveRoyal TajFlavors of India, and Nepalese-Indian Curry & Kabob -- plus quick service Tandoor Grill on Johns Hopkins Road that I don't think does a buffet.  On top of those, Ananda should open soon in Fulton, and it appears that the shuttered Akbar's will be replaced by a restaurant called Chutney.


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