- Griffin Swartzell
- Piling a plate for round two on the $9.99 lunch buffet.
Indian eateries are victims of their own success by day and night. At lunch, people flock to punish cheap all-you-can-eat buffets. The restaurant's challenge: luring them back to pay at least double to consume the same amount when the sun drops.
Diversity seekers will also find more value in the buffet's wide range of flavors, instead of being pinned to a single dish of a saag, biryani or korma for upwards of $18. That's compared to $9.99 for everything under the awkwardly tall sneeze guard at Shri Ganesh, the latest installment to inhabit the notably spacious former Rosie's, Diggy's and Bunz spot. Raj Adhikari, co-owner of both Little Nepal locations, is aiming for an "upscale" feel, perhaps best captured by red tablecloths and tight banquet chair covers à la a wedding reception. Nice as they make the sparsely decorated dining room feel, it's hard to fully enjoy it when the air smells so strongly of cooking smoke that we wonder if the hoods are on in back. Also on both visits, we find no paper towel or toilet paper dispensers filled in either gender's restroom, but instead rolls stacked atop or on the floor — a minor sanitary detail perhaps, but still an indication of inattention by the otherwise charismatic, energetic and professionally savvy Adhikari.
We try to be less nitpicky at the buffet, still a great deal for the price, but only serviceable. Chicken's the only meat on display in mild makhani or dry-ish tandoori form. Dahl lentils are al dente, coriander seeds overwhelm some cabbage matar, and though we're dropped a basket of naan upon seating, none's set on the line and none of the servers offer more, despite over-attentive check-ins. Some lively vegetable curry wins the day followed by banana fritters and carrot pudding.
At dinner, butter chicken performs well as a go-to crowd pleaser and shrimp vindaloo falls short of a described "fiery hot" but boasts nicely cooked and flavorful prawns amidst big potato hunks. Great, fluffy garlic-basil naan soaks up all admirably. But we're really here to try some dishes unique to town, starting with two appetizers: idli sambhar and pav bhaji.
The first consists of a crumbly rice flour biscuit, with a neutral grits taste, and a loose lentil soup, gritty and spicy from unincorporated spices; side coconut chutney cools with an unexpected bitter bite. The pav bhaji appears less impressive than online pics of the popular Mumbai street snack, with a generic dimpled hamburger bun instead of pillowy rolls to spread a thick potato, tomato and multi-veg spicy paste upon. But it's delicious, even if we can't help think of Sloppy Joe's, Indian style.
And for dessert, we order rasgulla and rasmalai, each a chhena (cottage cheese) construct, yet entirely interchangeable other than for the shape of the cheese. To call them sweet is to call the Dead Sea salty. What amounts to simple syrup broth cloys obscenely, soaking what texturally feels like matzo balls that squeak in the teeth, with aromas of perfume and dish soap. Two-bite diabetes.
Best to avoid and go for a tall, lovely rose lassi or sweet ginger-lemon soda called adrak and nibu ras. And if you do go by night, maybe make it a Thursday or Sunday for the $17.99 dinner buffet, said to feature more meats and seafood. You'll likely miss those new-to-town items, but that's half way a good thing, especially for the price.