India Bistro

$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

NOTE: An all-you-can-eat lunch buffet is served 7 days a week.

By Barbara Ruben
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, April 1, 2004

If you like your Indian food highly spiced, plentiful and cheap, then India Bistro is the place to head at lunchtime. The all-you-can eat buffet is piled high with freshly baked bread, salad, several kinds of curry and chicken cooked in a tandoor oven.

At $7.99 on weekdays and $8.99 on weekends, the lunch buffet draws office workers and hungry families alike. Choices from the menu range from $7.95 for vegetarian dishes to $12.95 for fish and shrimp.

For these rock-bottom prices, don't expect a lot of atmosphere. You put your food from the buffet on a metal tray with compartments, akin to those holding frozen dinners, and the tables are covered in easy-clean clear acrylic.

Unframed prints of Indian scenes complete the no-frills decor.

What India Bistro may lack in ambiance, the decade-old Gaithersburg restaurant more than makes up for in the spice department. Owner Deepak Khemka imparts the fiery flavors of his native northern India to the food. Even though the appetizer of samosas, crispy pyramids of potatoes and peas in fried dough, is labeled "mildly spiced," it is a searing introduction to India Bistro.

A recent buffet included the mouth-scorching daal makhani, black lentils and kidney beans cooked in butter, along with saag paneer, homemade cheese and spinach, which, while less incendiary, still packs a punch. Tandoori chicken is marinated in yogurt and mild spices and broiled in a clay oven, which confers a smoky flavor to the food.

Lamb curry and navrattan korma, fresh vegetables simmered in a spice-cream sauce with nuts, were also available on the buffet. In addition, it includes saffron-accented basmati rice known as biryani and freshly baked nan, a pita-shaped white bread baked in the tandoor oven. A soupy, sweet rice pudding is one of the traditional Indian desserts available at the buffet.

From the menu, try the chicken tikka makhani, chunks of chicken grilled in the tandoor oven and simmered in a tomato and cream sauce with onions, tomatoes and peppers. Keema matar blends ground beef and peas in a curry, and lamb do piaza is boneless pieces of lamb stir-fried with onions, herbs and spices.

Tandoori specialties include barra kebab, morsels of marinated lamb, and shrimp tandoori.

As with most Indian restaurants, vegetarians have a wide range of options, from baigan bhurtha, roasted eggplant cooked with tomatoes and onions, to alu mattar, potatoes cooked with green peas, spices and herbs. The malai kofta are spiced dumplings with minced vegetables in a tangy cream sauce.

In addition to the nan available at the buffet, India Bistro bakes a variety of other breads. The flavor of the puffy, deep-fried poori bears a distinct resemblance to a Krispy Kreme doughnut without the glaze. Paaratha is a multi-layered whole wheat bread cooked with butter, and aalu paratha is whole wheat bread stuffed with potatoes.

Try the Indian ice cream for dessert. It comes in mango and saffron-pistachio. The gulab jamun are balls of deep-fried homemade cheese soaked in a sugary syrup.