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Saturday, October 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 55.0° F  Overcast
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Hallelujah, Flavor of India and its buffet comes to the Square
So long, Fit City Madison -- hello chicken tikka masala
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After a first visit, I'd say Flavor of India is a good bet for old hands at Indian food as well as newcomers.
After a first visit, I'd say Flavor of India is a good bet for old hands at Indian food as well as newcomers.
Credit:Linda Falkenstein

The long-awaited Flavor of India on Mifflin Street has opened its doors. Never mind that Maharani, which also features a buffet, is down West Wash just three blocks from the Square at Broom Street -- and if you're doing an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet, you can probably use the walk. On the other hand... when you have only an hour for lunch, every minute at the buffet table counts. And let's not forget those below-zero, icy days of I-Don't-Want-To-Go-Outside.

Flavor of India has done a nice job enlivening its long, narrow space, with vivid colors, exotic spangly fabrics hanging from the ceiling and relatively muted musical choices. The buffet is at the very end of the bowling-alley-shaped space. There, over twenty entrees and appetizers, plus breads, chutneys and desserts await. The lunch buffet ($8.95) is unlimited as is the dinner ($12.95).

The best option for an appetizer is probably the crispy papadam, a thin peppery cracker, dolled up with tamarind sauce, mint chutney and/or tomato chutney. The aloo tikki is a fried round of potato that would be the Indian version of a Tater Tot -- if it had any Indian flavoring. Okay for fried potato round, but not how you want to be allotting your buffet appetite. Likewise the chicken pakora -- the fried, lightly breaded chicken appetizer tasted similar to the kinds of chicken fingers you could get anywhere, despite its reddish-pink tandoori coloring.

Much more interesting were the entrees. Beef dopiaza (not listed on the regular menu) was a rich curry stew with tender beef, tomato, and lots of slow-cooked, soft, sweet onions. The Aloo Baingan (also not listed) was a standout -- eggplant roasted with tomatoes and onion, with the usually delicate flavor of the eggplant really coming through.

Likewise the palak paneer showcased the delicate flavor of the spinach, alongside the homemade cubes of mild cheese. The dal paneer, yellow lentils with homemade cheese, was a bit too mild, without flavor depth, as was the chana masala. The chicken tikka masala, chicken in a rich velvety masala curry sauce, could also stand to have its heat level hiked a notch or two. Also available when I visited -- goat curry and lamb biriyani and chicken tandoori.

With the two kinds of naan (tandoori baked bread) -- plain and aloo nan (stuffed with potatoes and spices) -- watch for buffet refills, because the bread's best served fresh. Otherwise it gets a little chewy, the peril of any buffet situation. The aloo naan was also heavy on the cumin.

At least four desserts were on the buffet: carrot halwah, mango custard, gulab jamun and (depending on whether this is really a dessert or an appetizer) a lentil doughnut in yogurt sauce. I've never been able to warm up to gulab jamun and its syrup, but the mango custard was a nice sweet touch to the end of the feeding, and the carrot halwah was a surprise -- shredded carrots with almond slivers, very sweet.

After a first visit, I'd say Flavor of India is a good bet for old hands at Indian food as well as newcomers, because the fare at the buffet table covers vegetarians and meat-eaters, spice addicts and the curry-suspicious. Cap Square lunchers, you have nothing to fear but your expanding waistlines.

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