Saturday, October 16, 2010

Diet Break: Indian Food (food)

Sometimes you just have to take a break to let your body adapt, so I took one week off where I didn't go to the gym and wasn't on the diet plan. However, I managed not to go too crazy eating as I was on a budget for the most part. One of the best ways to satisfy cravings on a budget is an all you can eat buffet, and it seems like the most common ones in NYC are Indian buffets. So that is where we start.

Mehfil 76-05 37th Ave, Jackson Heights Queens

I took a half day on Columbus Day and had to choose from the many Indian buffets in my Jackson Heights neighborhood. I decided to go to Mehfil, because it had good reviews on Chowhound and also because it was the only buffet in the area that had fish as one of the buffet offerings.

First up are some samosas and some chutneys. Besides the ubiquitous mint sauce, tamarind sauce, and onion chutney, they also had a mango chutney and some pickled vegetables that I decided to try. The stuff wasn't bad, but nothing was particularly special on this starting plate.

I usually go right to all the meats on my first main plate, and here is a selection of chicken tikka masala, goat curry, fish curry, and tandoori chicken drummettes. The chicken in the masala was kinda tough, but the drummettes were perfect. Because there is a much higher skin and fat to meat ratio, the drummettes remained juicy. This is not always the case with tandoori chicken pieces put out in a buffet. The fish curry was very mild, but satisfying in its own way. It was lightly fried and had a pretty good texture. I liked it.

The naan and rice were put on the table, and not part of the buffet. I don't know how I feel about this. It's good because it leaves more room at the buffet for more main dishes, but the rice and bread can get cold and dry much more quickly.

My next plate I usually go for all the vegetarian options, and here I got some zucchini, aloo gobi (cauliflower and potato), and saag (spinach). I love saag paneer (spinach and cheese), but they only had spinach and it was still very tasty with the rice. There were many other options, such as chana masala, dal makhani, aloo matar, and mixed vegetables, but I didn't get any of those.

Usually I finish off the meal with one more plate of favorites. Here I had the spinach, fish, and tandoori chicken. I took a bigger piece of chicken to compare, and it was indeed much less juicy and tender than the drummettes.

In all, I found this buffet to be quite good and fair at its $8.95 price point. It's too bad they only offer it for lunch. I've had other buffets in the area, and I do feel the fish and chicken drummette options set them apart.

Tiffin Wallah 127 East 28th Street, Manhattan

I'd been meaning to try Tiffin Wallah for a while but only just got around to it. I don't know why since it's not far from work. They do South Indian vegetarian fare and the room is quite nice compared to some of the other Indian restaurants in the "Curry Hill" part of town.

I ate more than this but I only took one picture. In addition to this plate, there were some papadum chips and sambar, and some chutney, but nothing else in terms of variety of selections. The other thing is that none of the food is identified. They will tell you what it is if you ask, but why spoil the surprise?

My favorites were the lentil dumplings in yogurt curry sauce (the light yellow stuff on the right) and the uttapams (the small round things, or are they idli? I can't tell the difference from the wiki definitions) which are like savory-sweet pancakes. Regardless, I thought that overall everything was good. I also liked the papadum chips a lot. While North Indian papadums are thin, the South Indian variation has an airy texture that reminds me a lot of Indonesian shrimp crackers. And I love Indonesian shrimp crackers, even though I can't seem to find any in the Chinese grocery stores in NYC.

In all, this was a terrific value for a satisfying lunch in Manhattan for $6.95.

Dosa Place 35-66 73rd st, Jackson Heights Queens

Somehow still in the mood for Indian food during my week off, I looked again to chowhound for guidance and it led me to Dosa Place for more South Indian fare.

You would think that at a place called Dosa Place, I would order the dosa. Instead, I went with the vegetarian thali. On this night, there was potato and cauliflower, long beans, eggplant, dal, sambar, rasam, yogurt, pickled vegetables, with rice, papadam, a choice of roti or poori, and kheer for dessert.

I was quite impressed with the food here. Things were spiced, but not so much that the spices were all you could taste. I could definitely taste the underlying vegetable flavors. When things got too spicy, a spoonful of the yogurt was perfect. Overall there was a lot to like and I thought the $8.95 price was very reasonable.

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