From the buffet.

From the buffet.

India Kitchen

394 Tolland Turnpike, Manchester (860) 533-9695, indiakitchen.us

 

It's been said that the average American lives within four minutes of a McDonald's. That's pretty crazy. This is a huge country. Then again, there are a lot of McDonald's in it. I mention the ubiquity of the Golden Arches only because Lisa and I went to India Kitchen in Manchester last week. Maybe you've seen it. India Kitchen is visible from I-84. That prime placement must count for something in terms of advertising. While we were eating there Lisa and I discussed how many Indian restaurants there are within easy access of highway around here. There's Utsav in Vernon, Priya in Rocky Hill, IndiGo Bistro (also in Manchester) and others. Our region is dense with Indian food, but in terms of tandoori-access, I don't think we're anywhere close to the four-minute universe envisioned by McDonald's masterminds — a world where everyone can get a Happy Meal in the time it takes to brew a pot of coffee. But we're getting close. And when it comes to food emergencies, I'm much more likely to have a panic about needing an order of fish curry than I am about needing a Big Mac (not that I don't enjoy one now and again). The spread of the Indian buffet is making it that much easier to satisfy those urges.

Indian food is notoriously labor-intensive. Any cuisine that requires home-blended spice mixtures and overnight preparations (try making your own paneer) is best done over and over, with a staff of pros, and a well-stocked cupboard or simply enjoyed at a restaurant and not attempted at home. India Kitchen is a bit worn on the inside and out. You can tell that several other restaurants have lived and perished at the same location. The inside is dim and lived-in, with a kind of low-watt red-leather and red-velvet glow to the place.

The food provides plenty brightness and fire power though. The menu is divided up into tandoori, lamb, chicken, seafood, vegetarian, South Indian, appetizers, breads, etc. But even with the sprawl of the typical Indian menu, there are some surprises here. Dishes like chicken chettinad (devilled chicken in a black-pepper corn sauce) and methi chicken (cooked with mint) didn't sounds like standard fare. (We didn't try them because they weren't on the buffet.) There are a few egg dishes (egg curry, egg burgi and egg paratha) that one doesn't see at most Indian restaurants.

Over the past 10 years more and more Indian restaurants in the region have started serving dosas (South Indian crepes) and Indo-Chinese dishes (Indian interpretations of Chinese food), but India Kitchen branches out even farther, serving a selection Thai dishes. At first I thought these might be similar to the Indian spin on Chinese favorites, but our waiter informed me it was basically Thai food you'd find at a Thai restaurant.

The buffet included delicious, powerfully spiced veda sambar (lentil fritters — they call them donuts, but I think that's a little misleading — and the spicy soup seasoned with curry leaves, tamarind and mustard seed). There were several kinds of chicken -- the popular clay-oven-roasted tandoori, creamy tika masala, and an eye-opening curry as well as an even more fiery chili chicken. There was also a rice dish made with a lot of mint, which made it taste something like tabhouli.

For all of the people who time their trips between New York and Boston in order to schedule a stop at Rein's in Vernon, the Indian restaurants along that stretch of I-84, including India Kitchen, might make it worth changing up the routine.