Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Café Spice

My sister and I went up to Towson this weekend for lunch. And for a good, filling, usually tasty lunch, one just can't beat those Indian buffets! I have sampled many an Indian buffet in my life, but never an Indo-Chinese one. I suggested we do that, as I had seen one on York Road near the library.

This place, Café Spice, is a lovely place to look at and to eat (just look at the photo, linked from Towson U's Towerlight newspaper website). The big, black and glittery Dancing Shiva (or Nataraja) statue confirms this when you get to the podium at the entrance. The hostess, I imagine one of the owners, greeted us in a friendly manner and seated us. The place is huge but on this Sunday afternoon it was not so crowded. More for us, I guess.

The buffet was a little larger than most I've seen (perhaps as big as Akbar or Kathmandu, a little smaller than Mughal Garden), and had a bit more variety than I usually see at Indian restaurants. Some of the menu items were quite new to me (it does advertise menu items from all over India, after all, not just the Northern Indian cuisine featured at many Indian-American restaurants). High on my list was a fish madras, delicious in a red coconutty sauce. Also high on my list were:

  • their vegetable fritters, deep fried and tasty;
  • their potato chip-sized papadums (so adorable);
  • their Manchurian chicken, which comes from their Chinese side.
The tandoori chicken also gets kudos from me. I don't usually enjoy it, but this boneless tandoori chicken was pretty mellow and soft, not really dried out like I get sometimes.

All the while during the meal, I openly wondered "Where is the Chinese part of this Indo-Chinese restaurant?" True, their were some decorations with a Chinese theme, but these were minimal and overshadowed by (or even incorporated into) the much larger Indian and Hindu motifs. It only dawned on the both of us that there really was no substantial Chinese aspect to this restaurant, however, when I looked at the back of the menu. The whole left side of their menu is chock full of delicious-sounding Chinese dishes and very intriguing Indian-Chinese dishes (note that these were not in the buffet, but I wish they had been):
  • spring rolls;
  • American and Chinese chop suey;
  • shrimp, chicken and gobi Manchurian appetizers;
  • manchow soup ("freshly chopped vegetables with crispy noodles");
  • paneer fried rice, perhaps the most intriguing combination of them all, a fried rice dish with the delicious, firm Indian cheese.
And all of this delicious food was, sadly, crossed out with a big black Sharpie.

But at least we had a delicious meal. I ate nothing that I did not like. A few things that I rate really high:
  • the fish madras;
  • their plain lassi, which looked suspiciously mango-y (I don't like mango lassi, or really mango anything);
  • gaajar ka halwa, a dessert dish of "grated carrots, cooked in milk, cream, nuts and raisins"
That dessert was particularly memorable, almost sweet-potatoey.

The bill was not a pleasant thing, though. The buffet costs $12 per person on Sundays ($8 each during the week), which was a little steeper than most Indian buffets. Adding the lassi (for me) and a Pepsi (for my sister), the total came to about $30. We left a $5 tip. All in all, a fabulous place to eat with very friendly staff.

However, one bugaboo I must point out, as with the Helmand the other week. The merchant's copy of my receipt showed my entire credit card number, so I blacked it out with my pen. I am going to start noting on this blog which places print the whole number and not just XXX's with, say, the last three or four digots. By no means should you not eat at these places. But to avoid an unscrupulous employee or guest of the restaurant sneaking a look, just blacken out your number. True, if they are that determined to get your information, they can probably just get it after swiping your card. But at least scratching it out gives me peace of mind. And it won't keep them from getting paid, because they already have your number!

Cafe Spice on Urbanspoon