#254: Tandoori Bite

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I type this feeling incredibly full and with a loosened belt (truthfully I removed it entirely, haha).  The telltale sign of a visit to an Indian buffet.  This is Tandoori Bite, located on Baseline at Foothills.  A somewhat recent addition to Roseville’s large and always growing collection of Indian restaurants, they opened sometime over Summer.  They are situated on the opposite end of the building where Crawfish Factory lives.

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I walked in just after noon.  The place is quite large and there is a lot of open space from the entryway all the way back to the buffet and register area.  To the right is a largish grid of tables.  I was the only customer at the moment, though a couple people had just left if take out right as I arrived.  At first there was no-one to be seen but, seconds after the door shut, a woman appeared from the back and greeted me.  I gestured to the buffet line and she told me to go ahead and get started.  Buffet is served every day for lunch, although it is a few bucks more on the weekends ($12.95).  Their menu doesn’t say anything about it being served at dinner but I think I’ve seen them post about it on Facebook once or twice.

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Before setting my camera down at a table I asked if I could get a mango lassi and she said it would be extra, which I expected and said that would be fine.  Once back to grab a plate she asked what I wanted to drink (which I didn’t think much of at the time, figured it was more a question if I also wanted water) and I told her water is good.  She also asked if I wanted plain or garlic naan and I chose the latter.  Eventually I realized that she must have misheard my response about the lassi being extra because it was never brought out.  No big deal I guess, and she was on top of the water refills since I was downing it quickly throughout the meal.

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I went down the line and tried a little bit of nearly everything.  My first plate consisted of Fish Pakora (fish cubes dipped in spiced batter & deep fried), Vegetable Pakora (assorted vegetable fritters dipped in chickpea batter and deep fried), Rajma (not shown on their menu but Wikipedia says it consists of red kidney beans in a thick gravy with many whole spices), an item that was unlabeled but I am  pretty sure was the Chana Masala (garbanzo beans cooked with onion and tomatoes in house special spices) Saag (spiced creamy spinach) and finally Butter Chicken (boneless chicken cooked in a special sauce with a blend of tomatoes, butter & cream).

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The fish and vegetable pakoras were good, although they were a bit steamed and soft from being in their closed serving container for a while.  A busier buffet usually doesn’t have that problem since it rotates a lot quicker.  I definitely prefer a nice crispy pakora.  The vegetables had a lot of flavor to them with lots of spices and a hint of heat.  The naan was fresh with a bit of a crisp on the bottom and plenty of flavorful garlic on it.

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I had the rest of the items on a bed of colorful rice.  The Rajma was pretty heavy on the kidney bean flavor while the Chana Masala was a much creamier blend of the masala flavor and garbanzos and had a bit of a kick after a few bites.  Both were tasty though.  The saag is usually one of my favorites but usually only when it has paneer in it, which this one did not, so it was a little bland and boring.  Easily my favorite item of everything I had today was the butter chicken (I know, classic white guy Indian food choice).  It was intensely rich and flavorful, smooth and creamy with tender chunks of dark chicken.  A touch on the salty side, it was still amazing and I ended up getting seconds on my next plate.

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For my second plate I tried the Chicken Curry (skinless & boneless chicken cooked in a spiced curry sauce), Goat Curry (goat cooked in a spiced curry sauce), Haleem (lentils, barley mixed meat slowly cooked with authentic spices) and a drumstick of Tandoori Chicken (chicken marinated in a blend of yogurt and Indian spices).

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The chicken curry was probably my 2nd favorite item.  It was as flavorful as the butter chicken but less creamy.  The goat had bones so I had to take care to separate those out first.  I often skip goat curry on buffets and probably would here in the future as well.  It wasn’t bad, but the meat itself was a bit tough and slightly gamey.  The Tandoori Chicken drum was really good.  It wasn’t as overly bright red with coloring as many but had the flavor marinated in nicely and was very tender and had a good amount of meat on it.  The Haleem was something I had never seen or tried before.  It was unfortunately my least favorite item.  It seemed to taste like bitter squash.  The little jalapeño slice I got in a bite had a huge kick to it.

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Finally I headed back one last time for dessert.  I was excited to see that they had Gulab Jamun (deep fried cheese balls dipped in sugar syrup, served warm) and hot Chai Tea.  In addition they had something labeled as Cart Keer.  I didn’t see this on their menu and googling comes up with Carrot Kheer, which I guess is what this might have been, although it tasted to me more like sweet potato rather than carrot.  It was quite good.

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The Gulab Jamun was great.  I don’t know exactly how this is made and what kind of cheese it is.  I’ve always thought it tasted more like a soggy surgery donut than any kind of cheese.  The tea was incredibly hot but absolutely delicious once at a more reasonable temperature.  Not many Indian buffets have Chai tea or even desserts on their buffets, so to have both (and 2 desserts at that!) was really nice!

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Overall I was quite happy with this buffet.  Not everything was a hit, but that’s par for the course at just about every buffet, and there was plenty to enjoy.  The woman handling the dining room was very friendly, and as I had mentioned earlier refilled my water constantly (a pleasant change from the numerous Indian buffets I’ve sampled in the Rancho/Folsom areas).  I would definitely return here again.

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#239: Chicago’s Pizza With a Twist

Hello 2016!  It’s been a long and much needed break, but I’m back to work.  My list has grown a bit as several new restaurants have opened in the last couple months and there are already several new ones on the horizon.  I’m kicking it off with a pizza place that caught my eye a couple weeks ago, Chicago’s Pizza With a Twist, located next to Leo’s Kitchen on Foothills and Pleasant Grove.

At first I thought, another pizza place?  We already have so many.  But when I drove up to it to see if they were open yet, I saw the banner that said “Home of the Authentic Indian Pizza.”  That definitely piqued my interested so I popped in to grab a menu.  Not sure why but it didn’t occur to me until I went through the door that this might have a dine-in option.  So many pizza places are take-out and delivery only, so the small dining room kind of caught me off guard.  Once home I skimmed over the menu and found lots of the usual pizza offerings and toppings, but on one page in particular there were pizzas like Tandoori Veggie, Palak Paneer and Butter Chicken.  I was sold.

I had an unusually early start to my Saturday and by 3:45 I was already thinking about dinner.  I went to their website to decide what I would get and eventually found myself downloading the mobile app on my phone to place the order.  The app is nicely made and very responsive.  Some things are broken out in a strange way so it took a minute to figure out how to do a half and half, but once I found the option it was very straightforward.  Before I knew it I was checking out and used my thumbprint to pay.  It was super easy and convenient.  By the time I grabbed my keys and wallet to head out I had already received the confirmation email which stated the time my pizza would be ready to pick up, which was about 15-20 minutes.

I arrived a little early and was greeted as soon as I walked through the doors.  One employee was sitting at a table in the dining room and another emerged from the back to meet me at the register.  Since I had already paid there was little to do, they checked the order and let me know it would be out in about 5 minutes so I took a seat and a couple photos.  Soon the box was walked out and handed to me, then they bagged up some cheese and peppers for me and I was on my way.

I wondered what it would smell like as I drove home, but instead of smelling like curry or masala I actually mostly detected green peppers.  I had ordered a medium half Chicken Tikka Masala (Tikka Sauce, Tikka Chicken, Mozzarella Cheese, Mushrooms, Red Onion, Bell Pepper, Garlic, Ginger, Fresh Cilantro) and half Curry Paneer (Curry Sauce, Cheese, Mushrooms, Bell Pepper, Red Onion, Black Olives, Tomatoes, Garlic, Ginger, Curry Paneer & Fresh Cilantro) [$14.99].  I got home and cracked the lid open to see a pizza that wasn’t crazy or weird looking at all.  Mostly what stood out were the cubed pieces of paneer.

The crust was a ordinary pan style (they do have options for an actual deep dish crust though).  The main toppings of chicken and paneer were embedded in the layer of cheese, and most of the rest was below that.  Both sides had a light colored sauce.  I started with the chicken tikka masala side.  The slice held up fairly well under the weight of the toppings, which were generous.  Although the crust looked quite crisp from the top, once I was holding it I realized it was fairly soft and just crisp around the edges.  I might ask for well done in the future as I love a crunchy crust.  The tikka masala sauce was tasty, perhaps a bit less rich than I was expecting though.  Chicken, onions bell peppers and mushrooms were in great supply.  A few bites pulled some extra of the top layer away and revealed the extra veggies underneath.

Next up was the Curry Paneer, and I think this was my favorite.  Also a little more mellow than expected, the curry sauce was still delicious and had a nice smooth flavor to it.  The paneer was toasted from the ovens and fairly dense, requiring slight chewing.  A little different than what you would find in a typical Indian restaurant’s sauce, which would probably have a more moist, rubbery texture.  Both of these came with cilantro, which I am not much a fan of and forgot to make a note to leave it off.  It blended in with the other flavors pretty well though and I didn’t really notice it.

Overall I was pretty happy with this pizza.  One thing I noticed as I sat down to write this up was that the menu mentions take and bake, so they pretty much do it all (take out, dine in, delivery, take and bake).  I think I might do a take and bake butter chicken pizza next.  The question of how this stacks up against normal pizza was one of the first I thought of.  The sauces are mostly what make these pizzas unique and I definitely enjoyed them a lot.  I’m not certain if they do a thinner crust but if they did then this place would certainly rise above a lot of the usual pizza joints I frequent.  The fast pizza places like Trademark are still tough to beat on price, quality and speed though.  All in all it’s nice to have a new place that sets itself apart from it’s vast competition.  If I worked in the area I’m sure I’d find myself coming for the buffet to try their other creations. Below are some screenshots from the app ordering process.

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#229: Monsoon Cuisine of India

Last night I finally made it out to Monsoon Cuisine of India.  This Indian restaurant seems to have moved here from downtown Sacramento, taking the place of Bombay Bistro in the Hobby Lobby shopping center.  They opened back in March.  I tried to come here for dinner last week but they were closed when I arrived at around 5.  The website says they close after lunch at 3 and reopen at 4:30.  So either that’s out of date or they had some issue.

Anyway, last night I made sure to wait until later and arrived at about 7:15.  The place has had a significant makeover inside.  Gone are the carpeting, white walls and cramped seating.  The walls are now painted a bold red with black trim and the flooring is all a dark hardwood.  The seating is much more sparse.  In fact when I first walked in I didn’t think they are busy at all, but once my eyes adjusted to the lighting I realized that they were nearly packed.  Had there not been the little 2-seater table available I would have either been sitting at the one remaining huge table for a group, or waiting until someone left.  There are big gaps where there is just empty floor space.  It’s a little weird.  Decorations are limited to some colorful paintings on a couple walls and a fountain near the front door which was dry, probably due to the drought.  It’s fairly dark due to the tinted windows, however the front doors and window above them are not, so there is a bright beam of light shooting in down one side of the restaurant (where the buffet is).  If you happen to be facing that direction it’s probably a little annoying.

I was greeted within 10 seconds as I meandered up to the front desk/counter area and the host (/manager/owner?) appeared from the middle of the room to seat me.  Behind me was the buffet, sitting unused for dinner.  They serve it 7 days a week for lunch and, I think, only on Wednesday for dinner.  I looked over the menu for a minute, hoping for a saag paneer and maybe butter chicken.  Not seeing saag paneer I kind of did a flip flop and picked out a chicken dish with spinach and a paneer dish with a butter masala sauce.  These were the Paneer Butter Masala (cottage cheese cooked in butter-infused tomato sauce and dry fenugreek)[$11.95] and Chicken Palak (chicken smothered in creamy spinach sauce)[$11.95].  I got a mango lassi (refreshing mango yogurt drink)[$2.99] and a water to go with these.  Rice is not included, so I added some for $2.

The mango lassi took about 7 minutes.  It was a very light orangish-yellow color with a thick and creamy consistency.  It was more tart than sweet and was also close to room temp, which I think contributed to the tartness.  I did not really enjoy this. A couple minutes later I was served a complimentary appetizer of papadum, a crisp, seasoned cracker-like sheet, rolled up in a basket.  It was accompanied by green and tamarind chutneys.  This was very good on it’s own and even better in both of the chutneys.  I tore through this quickly.

From here it was a fairly long wait until the main dishes were brought out.  About 30 minutes.  There was a large group of 12 or more that were served sometime in the middle of that, so the kitchen may have been backed up with their order.  Anyway, once they arrived, my little table was packed with three large bowls and a big plate.  I was kind of surprised with the serving size, it was huge.  I ended up taking probably 2 more meals home with me.

The paneer butter masala was basically just the cubes of firm cheese (which were in huge supply), swimming in a thin, bight red-orange sauce.  While enjoyable for the most part, it was a bit one-dimensional.  The sauce just wasn’t very complex.  It was a good thing I had the chicken palak to go with it.  That was very good.  The spinach sauce was delicious and creamy and had a nice texture.  The chicken was tender and flavorful itself as well.

One of the servers came by and asked if I was finished, and I asked to take the rest to go and also for an order of the mango crème brûlée (rich mango custard base topped with hard caramel).  They had several delicious-sounding desserts that I wanted to try, but I knew I would always wonder about this if I didn’t check it out now.

He came back with some containers and a bag and left them at the table.  Admittedly I was a little annoyed that I had to box this up myself.  Within another minute or so he returned again with the dessert.  I thought that was awfully fast, and I quickly found out why.  They don’t torch it when you order it.  The whole thing was cold, including the caramelized top which was soft and almost leathery.  Instead of a mango flavored custard it was a pretty traditional custard with chunks of mango in it.  I was hugely disappointed with this.

Overall the food was very hit and miss.  The service was about the same as well.  Some interactions were very brief and not fulfilling, although the host/manager was very nice.  The whole experience was unfortunately lackluster.  Considering we have quite a few good Indian restaurants here in Roseville, including Mehfil just one shopping center over, I doubt I will find myself here again.