Battle Of The Buffets

I’ve written before about Indian Oven, one of my very favorite restaurants in Columbus.  It’s a great place that serves top-notch Indian food, and I always get the same order when I go there for lunch — lamb korma, medium plus on the spice level — because it’s just so darned good.

imag0415Recently, however, I deviated from the time-honored norm.  The Jersey Girl, who also tends to get precisely the same order at IO, and I decided to break out of our ruts and issue each other the IO Buffet Challenge.  After all, most of the people who go to Indian Oven for lunch tend to have the buffet.  It’s not like it’s that big of a deal.

But for me, it kind of was a big deal.  To be blunt, I really detest buffets on general principle.  Perhaps it’s because I have an instinctive aversion to sneeze guards, or because I think food should be served hot, or cold, but not sit there at or near room temperature.  Maybe it’s because, at many buffets, the food has a distinctly pawed over look, or it has turned crusty under the beating glare of the warming lamps.  And then there’s the lingering issue of buffet gluttony, which causes otherwise normal people to load their plates with absurd quantities of food to make the buffet bargain an even better deal.  I’ll take the portion control of a regular entree any day.

Actually, the ability to eat obscene quantities of food mightily influenced the last two times I remember actually enjoying a buffet.  Both happened during the college years.  One time my friend Snow and I were starving and went to the Swedish Buffet near campus, where I recall eating approximately four dozen Swedish meatballs and drinking a gallon of milk to compensate for the resulting salt intake before leaving with a satisfied groan.  The other incident occurred when I was working at Alpine Village, a resort in Lake George, New York, and my fellow co-workers and I learned that an establishment across the border in Vermont was offering an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet with real lobster.  We didn’t eat anything one day, then drove over en masse and gorged ourselves on lobster, crab, oysters and steamed clams while the proprietor glared at us in hopes we would leave before his profits vanished in a flurry of cracked lobster shells.

But the days of going somewhere specifically to cram myself with food are long gone, and with them went any desire to make a pig of myself at a buffet . . . or for that matter, to eat any buffet food, period.  Not surprisingly, then, I approached the IO buffet with some natural trepidation born of prior buffet unpleasantness — but a challenge, once issued, cannot be retracted.

So the Jersey Girl and I tried the IO buffet, sampling the different options while attempting to maintain some semblance of consumption decorum.  And you know what?  It was good.  In fact, it was great.  The offerings were hot and fresh, and I got a chance to sample some things I hadn’t tried before.  I shouldn’t be surprised, because the food at Indian Oven is always of excellent quality — but then I was going against decades of contrary experiences.

Since the day of the Buffet Challenge, though, I’ve gone back to the lamb korma lunch order.  Old anti-buffet instincts die hard.

My Favorite Restaurants: Indian Oven

There are some restaurants that show off Columbus to good advantage.  Indian Oven, on East Main Street, is one of them.  If someone who is new to town is laboring under the misconception that Columbus is a boring food town, one visit to Indian Oven will disabuse them of that grossly mistaken notion.  That’s why, every year, I take every member of the firm’s Columbus crop of new summer clerks to Indian Oven for lunch.  They have a good lunch, and they leave knowing that Columbus is a bit more interesting and diverse than they previously thought.

For starters, this is a good looking place to eat.  The color scheme is red and yellow — appropriate for Indian cuisine, don’t you think? — and the interior features lots of burnished aluminum surfaces, high ceilings, small drop-down light fixtures, and large windows that flood the dining area with natural light.  The open, bright surroundings make Indian Oven a delightful place to dine.

More importantly, the food is even better than the decor.  This is one of the few restaurants in Columbus where you can take a vegetarian and a meat-eater for a meal and be confident that they both will have lots of interesting and well-prepared choices that will meet their dietary requirements.  I’m predictable — I usually get either lamb korma or lamb curry, so much so that for years the staff referred to me as “lamb curry guy” — but I’ve taken dozens of people to lunch and dinner at the IO, and I’ve never heard anything but raves.  (The lamb korma and lamb curry are both so good I don’t feel any need to experiment; I get to the restaurant with every intention of trying something new, but I just can’t resist ordering one of my all-time favorites dishes.)  And for dinner the kitchen will stretch out a bit, serving dishes like goat or fresh seafood that are always exceptionally well prepared.

I also like the fact that this is a friendly, welcoming place.  The gracious proprietor tries, with immense good humor, to get me to sample something different.  The staff are nice folks, and they aren’t shy about making suggestions, either.  One of them told me that I needed to try their tea because it was “life-changing.”  I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it is an excellent, spicy concoction that goes very well with lamb korma and roti.  And I really don’t need the tea to change my life — just having Indian Oven as a regular lunch stop has been life-changing enough.