Tandoori chicken and other classic Indian dishes are to be found on the buffet at Royal India.
Tandoori chicken and other classic Indian dishes are to be found on the buffet at Royal India.

It’s interesting when something like Indian food crosses over from novel to familiar. It’s a cuisine I didn’t grow up with but have enjoyed for years now. My recent lunch at Royal India began with a serving of garlic naan—crisp, pillowy flatbread—at my table as soon as I returned from the buffet line. Service here was anything but lacking.

From the salad and chilled bar I snagged a bit of raita—a tangy mixture of veggies and fresh yogurt that adds a cool counterpart to spicy dishes—and some achaar, hot pickled veg. It had the expected super sour, briny and spicy bite, but this was followed by complex flavors I found to be enjoyable. I also got both bhatura, a North Indian fried bread, and veggie biryani, a spiced rice dish which stood on its own tasty merits.

I loaded my plate with basmati rice as base for the curries. A serving of chickpea curry was rich and just slightly sweet. I followed this with a mild chicken curry and chicken mater with peas and a bit more spice. The lamb curry I tried had a thick sauce reminiscent of a classic stew gravy—hearty and satisfying. The chicken dishes were moist and tender. The chicken mater was particularly buttery and decadent. However, a serving of chili chicken—a dish with Chinese roots—bested both. It was made with boneless thigh meat and stir-fried with bell pepper, onion and hot chiles in a lightly sweetened sauce.

No Indian buffet is complete without tandoori chicken and vegetable pakora, and this line delivered on both. The chicken was terrific, and the accompanying grilled onion, tomato and bell pepper were enjoyable almost as their own side dish. Pakora—a sort of fritter—can be a bit dry and crunchy, but this onion version gave easily to a fork.

My all time favorite Indian dish—saag paneer—did not disappoint. Cubes of housemade cheese were cooked in a mixture of spinach, cream and spices that even an avowed hater of cooked greens could love.

Beef meatballs—easily the least inspiring item—were reminiscent of something from the supermarket freezer case you’d toss in a sauce and call “Swedish” or “Italian.” Here, the spicy curry was every bit as good as the others—but the meatballs were nothing to write home about. I didn’t see any other beef items listed on the dinner menu, so perhaps there was a sale at Costco the chef couldn’t resist.

My past experiences with Indian soups have been pretty flat, but Royal India’s lentil and tomato concoctions were worth trying. The lentil was thicker than most and had decent flavor, and the tomato was nicely seasoned and had little bits of paneer for texture. The experience encouraged me to sample a few of the desserts.

I’ve rarely tasted an Indian sweet at a buffet that I’d want again. The kheer—rice pudding with pistachios—was quite sweet but still pretty good. And the kulfi—ice cream with pistachios and rose water—reminded me a bit of the Persian variety, though less dense. Both were fine, but the gajar halwa—shredded carrot cooked with cream and milk, topped with pistachios and served warm—was something I definitely want in my life going forward. It was spicy, sweet and a completely enjoyable end to a great lunch.

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