After my success with my Indian meal recently at Amber Indian, several people raved about Spice Nation to me so I thought it was time to go. So I butted into my friend @zigged and her friend @sssemester’s lunch plans (they eat here regularly). Spice Nation offers a buffet at lunch with lots of different options. It’s all you can eat and it is like $7. A great deal. (Something to know about Spice Nation is it is completely vegetarian--they also designate several of their dishes that are vegan).
This is a tough one for me to write about, because like I have said before, this isn’t a cuisine I am super familiar with, and remembering all the names and dishes was challenging. One of the owners was very kind and made me my first plate, patiently explaining what things should go with what. I didn’t get to everything on the buffet (and there’s a whole separate table full of desserts) before I was stuffed.
Probably my favorite thing (and one of the things he started me with) was the shahi paneer (he recommended to eat it with the lemon rice). It is pieces of the paneer, which is soft homemade cheese cut into cubes. The sauce was creamy with a bit of tomato and lots of spices (judging by the color and taste, I’d say turmeric, coriander and cumin maybe). I liked the creamy, yet somewhat firm (think tofu-esque) texture of the cheese with the sauce.
There was also a dish called sambar, which is almost like a rich vegetable soup with lentils—the owner recommended I eat it in a small bowl over idli (steamed rice patties). He said to break the rice patty down with your spoon and eat it like you would rice with a dish.
Speaking of rice patties, there was certainly no shortage of starch on the buffet (and brought to the table). Along with the two kinds of rice and the patties, there were little lentil savory fried doughnuts (medu vada) (that were crispy and nutty and delicious) as well as naan, dosas and poori. I am not sure everyone gets served all of these things normally, as my dates are regulars at Spice Nation, but if you asked for any of them, I get the feeling they would be more than happy to oblige.
I really liked the poori—super thin puffed fried bread. It was light and a bit crunchy. A fun thing to dip into everything else. The naan was also good—quite garlicky, which I liked, although denser than some of the others I have had. I wasn’t as big a fan of the dosas, which are thinner rice and lentil crepes that are filled with curried mashed potatoes. Nothing like stuffing your crepe with potatoes. The owner recommended I dip the crispy lentil doughnuts into the rasam from the buffet, which was a thinner tomato-based soup flavored with tamarind, garlic, ginger and cilantro. I enjoyed this one’s slightly more acidic taste to balance out the very rich and starch-based flavors.
There were lots of veggies on the buffet, obviously as well, and I was served a colorful mix of veggies as a side as well a lentil-based dish. (Sorry, all the names were starting to blur together here). There were also little onion pakora balls (sliced onions cut into pieces and fried in a chickpea flour) that were really tasty little tidbits as well. Honestly, everything was good, and the enthusiasm and friendliness of the owners was a pleasure. They were happy to tell you what regions the dishes were from, and explained how many typical Indian dishes served in US restaurants come from just a few regions, but how their dishes represent lots of different regions. They also serve Indo-Chinese dishes—one of which was represented on the buffet as a cauliflower based dish, but which I did not get to.
Even though I was pretty full, I tried a couple of the desserts—the fried cheese balls in a sugar sauce (gulab jamon) and the fudge (moahanthal). My preference was probably the fudge because while sweet, it had a bit of a savory component to it that made it interesting—and it was very buttery. The cheese balls were just flat out sweet.
I enjoyed all the sauces they brought to the table—there was a cilantro mint sauce, a tamarind sauce, and a red spicy tomato based sauce. (There was also a coconut sauce on the buffet, but not being a fan of strong coconut flavors, I skipped it). I think there are certain sauces that are meant to go with certain dishes, but it was fun to experiment with different ones on different dishes.
All in all, I enjoyed myself, and enjoyed expanding my horizons with lots of new things (honestly I didn’t even talk about everything I ate). There are a ton of things to try. I would certainly recommend asking for suggestions of the owners on the buffet—they are more than happy to share their passion for the food with you. And if you’re a carnivore like me, you’ll barely miss the meat.
4225 Lafayette Road