When I think of lunch buffets, usually I picture steam-warmed food vats mounding with butter and salt, the fluorescents coloring every item a particular shade of green. The Taj of India’s lunch buffet, however, belongs in the next tier up.
Every day from 11 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., Taj of India opens its gold-embellished doors to the public for a $9.95 opportunity to heap plates full of spiced dishes and garlic naan. The interior surprises me with the sheer quantity of golden curlicues and sparkles present — from the chandelier to the glossy black tables to the handles of the serving spoons. This is a nice place for downtown Harrisonburg, though the giant televisions behind the bar, plain walls, and panel-drop ceiling might knock off a few sophistication points. Taj of India is still better dressed than its American home-styled cousins.
The entrees perch in a dozen copper pots, clearly labeled, with a spoon rest to house the separate utensils. There is Dal Tadka, Saag Paneer, Vegetable Korma, Chicken Tikka Masala, Gulab Jamun, and a few others I could not manage to squeeze on my plate. Basmati rice and garlic naan stand ready to chauffeur the toppings to my mouth.
The Dal Tadka consists of lentils in a yellow sauce that bites a little on the finish. This is not my favorite of the flavors pooling on my plate, but I might order the full entree for dinner in hopes of trying the dish when it is not lukewarm.The Saag Paneer is what I expect, a glob of green spinach mush with occasional chunks of spice and tofu. The Vegetable Korma drowns broccoli, potatoes, carrots, and beans in a coconut curry sauce that makes up for the overcooked demeanor of the vegetables. The Chicken Tikka Masala impresses me, and I would definitely order this dish from the dinner menu. Keeping chicken moist in a buffet setting is difficult, but the sweet creamy tomato-based sauce does the job.
The naan has marinated in garlic and butter an hour too long, reaching my plate at its soggiest, floppiest consistency. I pop the bubbles and leave the carcass on my napkin. The basmati, however, is excellent — individualized grains playing nicely together without turning slimy. I try the Gulab Jamun, which I am convinced looks like a potato until I poke it with my fork and discover a ball of bread soaked in cinnamon syrup. Not bad for accidental dessert.
My impressions remain as lukewarm and unspiced as the disappearing pools on my plate until I take a sip of their Mango Lassi, a mango yogurt drink useful for cutting the spice between bites. Not that these dishes know how to kick, but I suppose that is what you have to do when catering to the general public’s spice tolerance. The Lassi slides down, sweet mango cream singing on my tongue. I would come back just for the Lassi, which rings in at $3.95. I might even order two and call it a meal.
While Taj of India is no taste bud Mahal, it is worth a visit, especially if you are on a college student budget and want to try somewhere new for under ten bucks per person that does not involve mac and cheese or mashed potatoes.
You can find Taj of India on 34 S. Main Street, open daily 11-2:30 p.m. for their lunch buffet and 5-9:30 p.m. for dinner.