I had heard about House of India before. Good things, mostly. The word of mouth sort. I had read a favorabe review by a blogger whose tastes tend to resonate with mine. According to their web site, Shyam Prakash — the chef there — even had the privilege of cooking spicy lamb vindaloo for President Clinton. For a restaurant located in a tiny strip mall, that’s formidable on its own. Sitting just off Snowden River Parkway, I’d driven by House of India hundreds of times without realizing that that’s where it was located. After a short business lunch there last week, I was sold.
Set behind a nondescript exterior, the interior is subtly regal and inviting despite its small footprint. It’s equally suited to a business luncheon or for an intimate dinner. Dark paints and paneling adorn the walls and floors, along with some sparsely placed framed artwork. A wall-length mirror covers most of the left side, opening up the room visually. White linen tablecloths cover the one and a half dozen tables and the handful of two-top booths, adorned with glassware and decoratively folded cloth napkins. A crystal chandelier hangs from the ceiling, no doubt providing mood lighting during the dinner service.
The formally dressed staff wasted no time taking our drink orders, dropping off baskets of warm naan in the interim. Warm and moist, it differed from drier and lighter Afghan-style that I’ve become accustomed to. Just a hint of black pepper, it was a nice way to bring the chill off after setting down.
For $10 on weekday (and slightly more on weekend) afternoons, you can take part in the lunch buffet. About a dozen dishes are represented, each kept hot in heavy stainless steel trays with roll top lids. These aren’t the cheap entrees that you’d find at an all-you-can-eat venue, rather they’re the same dishes as you’d order off the dinner or catering menu. In fact, one guy in our party ordered the Chicken Tikka Masala and was informed that it was on the buffet that day and that he could just get it there; I thought that was incredibly honest, rather than taking a portion off the buffet and then charging $4 more for it.
First Plate (pictured, clockwise from the greenery):
- a touch of salad, with cilantro-based dressing
- Chaat Papri: flour crisps, potatoes, chickpeas mixed with tamarind, cilantro chutneys & yogurt
- Jasmine rice
- Dal Maharani: lentils cooked in butter with ginger, garlic, and spices
- Chicken Tikka Masala: boneless chicken marinated and cooked in the tandoor and sauteed with tomato based sauce
- Chicken Curry: boneless chicken prepared in a mildly spicy sauce
The fried potato crisps were soft and surprisingly ungreasy. The Dal Maharani was one of my favorites, having the most heat by far out of any dish offered (excluding some of the sauces served on the side) and a nice ginger kick. The Chicken Tikka Masala was incredibly rich and combined with the Dal would probably be the two dishes I’d crave upon my return. The Chicken Curry was sweeter than I expected, battered with the sauce; I appreciated it being served with sliced green peppers and onions, since many of the dishes lack a mixture of textures.
The second time through I tried to Palak Paneer (spinach cooked with homemade cheese and mild spices), Matter Paneer (green peas and homemade cheese cooked with spices), and the Chana Masala (chick peas cooked in spices). Though entirely vegetarian dishes, they don’t suffer from lack of flavor or texture. I wouldn’t hesitate ordering any of these again either.
I passed on the Tandoori Chicken, Goat Curry, Cucumber Raitha, and the desert tray. I’d had tandoor-fired chicken before and wasn’t in the mood to eat around bones. I wasn’t quite ready for goat, though I would have tried lamb if it were available. I was too full for anything else, though after reading the HowChow review I’m irked that I didn’t save room for the Kheer pudding.
The place really starts to fill up around noon on weekdays for the buffet, and will likely be packed by 12:30. If you have more than four people, be sure to call ahead. House of India will take reservations, placing a little placard on your table(s). I’m not sure if it’s a recommended practice for dinner or not, but it can’t hurt.
Not being as well versed with Indian food, I really enjoyed the opportunity to try a little bit of everything. Though buffet plates aren’t nearly as photogenic, I was really impressed with the quality and flavor of the offerings. If they’re anything remotely like the full service offerings, it’s a no-brainer whether I’ll come back. When I return for dinner, the worst part will be deciding on just one or two dishes.