I tend to get grumpy about Indian restaurants because so many of them offer nearly identical menus, and preparations so similar that it seems like if you have tasted one lamb vindaloo or chicken tikka masala, you have tasted them all. The restaurants that feature Nepalese or Tibetan cuisine offer a little more culinary diversity, along with many of the same Indian standards as everybody else.
That said, return visits to the Gorkha Palace in northeast Minneapolis and the Bombay Bistro in downtown Minneapolis produced some delightful surprises. And hidden away in Fridley, I discovered a new Indian restaurant, the Bombay Palace, with a better-than-average buffet.
If you are a fan of Gorkha Palace, or the momos and vegetarian curries sold on Saturdays at the Mill City Farmers Market, you probably know that the same people are behind both operations: chef Sarala Kattel and owner Rashmi Bhattachan, who were recently featured in the Star Tribune’s annual list of the top 50 local tastemakers. Gorkha Palace, by the way, has been one of the leaders among South Asian restaurants in its emphasis on local and sustainable ingredients, along with the Namaste Cafe, which also features Nepali and Indian cuisine.
I hadn’t dined at Gorkha Palace since shortly after it opened in September 2010, but decided to return after learning that the Gorkha Palace now features live music by the sitar and tabla duo of Bryan Sonday and Pratik Singh every Thursday night. The music was delightful, but I also enjoyed the opportunity to sample a couple of new dishes — chana chuttputt ($2.99), a spicy chickpea salad flavored with mustard seed oil, and aaloo achar ($2.50), a potato salad flavored with onions, sesame paste and chili peppers. Bhattachan was waiting tables the night we visited, and when we told her how much we enjoyed the chickpea salad, she explained that it was an old family recipe—- back in her native Nepal, her grandmother had operated a press that extracted the oil from mustard seeds.
I’ve had Gorkha Palace’s momos before at the farmers’ market, but Bhattachan insisted that we try the restaurant version. At the farmers’ market, she explained, they can’t use the same homemade wrappers that they use in the restaurant, because they tend to stick together, so they have to use wrappers from an outside supplier. I am not sure I could taste a lot of difference, but the veggie momos, stuffed with spinach, cabbage, onions, garlic and ginger, were delicious.
The machha curry, tilapia in a creamy tomato-based sauce ($13.99), wasn’t a dish I would order again, but there are several more entrees that I would like to try, including the aaloo kathar — jackfruit and potatoes in a tomato and onion sauce ($9.99) and the lamb choyla — meat grilled in the tandoor and then sauteed in a mustard oil with ginger, garlic, onions and peppers ($14.99).
I love South Indian cuisine, but ever since the Udupi Cafe and its short-lived successors closed their doors, it has been hard to find locally – unless you have time to drive out to Dosa King in Blaine. So I was delighted to discover that the Bombay Bistro in downtown Minneapolis has been operating a (mostly) South Indian buffet at lunch and dinner for several years now. It’s in a separate, attractively decorated space, down a long corridor from their main restaurant.
On a lunchtime visit, I discovered a very attractively presented buffet line nice selection of South Indian vegetarian dishes, including dosas, idli, a radish poriyal, sambhar, sorakaya (bottle gourd curry), a savory vegetarian rice pilaf (biryani), paneer makhani, and several non-veg dishes, including tandoori chicken, chicken biryani, and chicken tikka masala. At $12 for lunch and $12.50 for dinner, it’s the priciest Indian buffet in the Twin Cities, but still a good value.
On another lunchtime venture to Northeast, I discovered the Bombay Palace, 765 53rd Avenue Northeast, Fridley. It’s just west of Central Ave., across the parking lot from Target. The number of dishes on the $8.99 lunch buffet wsn’t all that big — about out half a dozen vegetarian entrees, and an equal number of meat dishes plus salads and desserts — but I was impressed with the quality of everything I sampled, and with the number of extra little touches they offered, including chai, mango lassi, naan, and dosas on request.