Last Sunday night marked the fifth stop on our Great India Buffet Tour of the Pittsburgh area, to take advantage of the Deluxe Dinner Buffet at India Garden on Atwood Street.
This was by no means my first visit to the India Garden in Oakland (nor was it Sabrina’s or Nik’s), a venerable institution of cheap spicy eats for the college crowd that has been around since my own college days. I’ve been there before for the late night half priced special, as well as to the lunch buffet on a non-Great-India-Buffet-Tour-related trip.
The evening started with a modicum of confusion. Seeing from the website that the dinner buffet was offered on Sunday night, and that dinner was served until 11:00pm, we naturally assumed that an 8:00 start time for dinner was not a problem. But as we sat and chatted, the waiter confirmed that we were getting the buffet and informed us it would be closing at 9:00pm. Okay… certainly not fatal to our evening, but that would have been nice to know on the website so that we did not risk planning a prohibitively late dinner.
Taking in the buffet, we decided that on the scale of size, this buffet fell somewhere on the scale of smaller than Taj Mahal but larger than Coriander, effectively making it the second largest buffet we have visited so far. There was a wide selection of vegetable curries, including favorites such as Saag and Vegetable Korma. There was a potato and chickpea curry, a yellow dal, a vegetarian Sambar curry and a mattar paneer. There were two chicken curries, as well as a shrimp and a goat curry, making for an impressive non-vegetarian selection. In addition, there were some dry vegetables, and a salad bar with an array of chutney and pickle, but I didn’t avail myself of any of these, save for some hot red pepper sauce.
My favorite item on any India buffet is the Saag (aka the palak, depending on some difference of regional dialects of which I know nothing, or so I presume). That night the saag was served with mushrooms, which was a first in my experience, but certainly no less agreeable than any saag with chicken, paneer, lamb, chickpeas or potatoes (moreso, actually, than the potatoes) I’ve had in the past. It can hold its own against any saag in the city. The vegetable korma was tasty, and no objections were raised on the consistency, as they were at Coriander. The chickpea and potato curry and sambar curries were tasty enough, the yellow dal was nothing special, and the mattar paneer was better than average, as I am usually extremely underwhelmed by mattar paneer, and this one I found okay (though, didn’t encounter any paneer).
The highlight of the buffet was within the meat section. I didn’t try any of the shrimp curry, but Nik highly recommended it (I was too full by that point to go back just to try the shrimp). There was a goat curry offered, but I don’t recall that any of us tried it… mostly we were enamored of the Chicken Chettinad. I have had chettinad from a few Indian restaurants in the past, but it is not a terribly common Indian Restaurant menu item, and this is the first time I have seen it on a buffet. It is a flavorful and fragrant curry which relies on many of the brown spices, such as cinnamon, clove and black cardamom. It was, by far, mine and Sabrina’s favorite item on the buffet. The other chicken offering, the more predictable Tikka Masala, was enjoyable. It was a particular favorite of Nik’s.
The dessert selections were limited: a fruit salad and a rice pudding. I was the only one who availed herself of dessert, enjoying two small helpings of the refreshingly sweet and spiced rice pudding.
A table-wide assessment of the Buffet Tour thus far resulted in the India Garden dinner buffet ending up a solid third on the list. The quality was good, we found, enough to trump Taj and Taste, despite the enormity of the Taj buffet, but it still came in behind Coriander and Tamarind, which remains our leader several stops into the tour after pulling ahead as the early front runner.