|Plate One from Mango Grove's lunch buffet|
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.
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 India, Mango Grove, Royal Taj, Flavors 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.