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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

India Garden: Oh, what a bargain!

Lunch date #8, March 2, 2012

That week, we were so far from our comfort zone, so far out of the box; we were in the nethersphere of dining choices—we were having Indian food! Mom had Moroccan food once—and thought that perhaps since that was pretty exotic, that Indian would be similar. Wrong continent I pointed out. She was relieved to discover we would not be sitting on cushions and eating with our hands, alla Morrocan. She really had no idea what to expect. I had eaten some Indian food, here and there, and I do like some curry-a bit of curry-but I was also really out of my element here. What to do? Be honest, play the tourist, and ask lots of questions.

Part of my desire to try Indian cuisine that day stemmed from my curiosity about India Garden, 210 Rose Avenue, www.indiagardencuisine.com. One of my previous favs, Claude and Dominique’s Bistro, had sadly closed a few years ago. Who could miss the replacement: the bright orangish-terracotta exterior wall-trim leaps off the street with a sign that reads: “India Garden: Northern and Southern Indian Cuisine”. Wow I thought—India is a huge country. For one restaurant to cover specialties from both the Northern and Southern regions, unbelievable and clearly the place to go for our introductory experience. I’m still in shock over Mom’s continued eagerness to participate in our project when she agreed to live on the wild side and give India Garden a go. Remember, this is a woman whose prior lunch staples were cheeseburgers and Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches!

Critique #1 location: 5 points. Not on Main, but so close to the heart of downtown, it seemed appropriate to give a full score here.

Critique #2 ambiance: 3 points. It is tough to objectively critique a style we don’t typically prefer. The color scheme is definitely a bold statement, but not pleasing in our opinion. The interior carries through the idea of sharp color, with décor in the niches that seems to represent an Indian flare. Still not what we would consider tastefully appointed; what would Dominique think? Actually, a bit garish, we thought. I liked the Indian music playing in the background. Although not enticing me to leap up and try-out my Bollywood dancing (thank goodness for Mom’s sake), it did set the mood.

Critique #3 Menu selection: 4 points. As we arrived, a queue consisting of about 8 men formed at the cash register. We had caught the end of the lunch rush on a Friday afternoon. India Garden offers a lunch buffet daily and we thought that would give us the best exposure to all they had to offer. It appeared that all the other remaining patrons had the same idea. When we found out the price: $10 for everything including tea, we were in. I counted 17 total dishes in the buffet that day. The waiter explained that there are always at least 5 vegetarian and another 5 meat-based dishes. On Fridays, they also offer a large selection of grilled veggies and the meal always includes fresh baked Naan. To be accurate critics, we challenged ourselves try a little sampling of everything. Although each item was clearly labeled, I had to ask for an explanation of each dish, as I had no familiarity with the names. Quite honestly, even the descriptions left me a bit perplexed.

Critique #4 service: 4 points. The wait-staff was very friendly and helpful. We did have to get their attention several times as they were also trying to fit in a nibble of lunch. Still, they were kind and tried to help us understand what we were eating. If they thought it odd that I was writing the names and description of the dishes in my little notebook, they didn’t let on! When we pointed out that the Chai pot was empty, they were quick to refill it. As we were toward the end of the lunch period, some of the buffet items were getting a bit low, but there were still ample amounts for our sampling needs.

Critique #5 food: 3 points. Overall, everything was pretty OK, but nothing all that great. We liked most everything a bit, didn’t care for a few. The Tandoori chicken, tender and nicely spiced, was the only item actually still warm—it tied for the best dish with the fresh, warm Naan. We didn’t care for the Dahi Vada: very sour lentil ball in yoghurt sauce, but liked the Saag Aloo—a cooked spinach dish. Both the Chana Masala (chick peas) and the Sambar (a spicy soup) were fair. We didn’t care for the lamb curry—lamb was fairly gamey, but did like the cilantro chicken and chicken curry. After a while, too many spices overwhelmed our palates, and we didn’t think it was possible to critically taste much else.

Critique #6 value: 5 points. An amazing price for a huge assortment of dishes. No leftovers, however! If someone wants a lot of Indian food, this is clearly the place to go for lunch.

Overall score for India Garden: 4 points. At the end, I asked Mom for her overall opinion: “It was all right, but I wouldn’t write home about it”, she concluded. Also, considering the buffet style resulted in no leftovers to take home, I was wondering what she would do for dinner—she was quick to point out the same! She admitted, however, that she really wouldn’t want to eat it all over again…so the lack of leftovers worked out in her favor this time. 

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