Only when the mercury drops can I contemplate an Indian lunch buffet without trepidation. Under tropical conditions, allowing myself free rein at tables laden with richly complex, stick-to-your ribs food leaves me feeling poleaxed, good for nothing, in dire need of a siesta. But let the weather cool, and I'm off in search of all the naan and sag paneer and tandoori chicken and rice pudding I can eat, plus anything else I can get my hands on that looks remotely interesting.
Which brought me, during the recent cold snap, to the Bombay Palace in Highland Village -- one of the city's first-generation Indian places, and a restaurant that advertises a whopping 18 dishes on its $8.95 buffet. There I found enough to keep me happy and warm, but little -- save an exhilarating onion salad -- to grab me by the lapels and shake me. The staple tandoori chicken was well above average, not dried out the way buffet chicken is wont to be; with some of that tart, green-chile-heated onion salad and a slab of heavyish naan, it did the trick. I loved the spicy, small potato cutlets enough to eat two, with an unprepossessing version of mint chutney; and the tart, crimson-battered morsels of chicken pakora made American fried chicken look like pallid stuff.
Iceberg salad or mayonnaisey cabbage slaw? I'll pass, especially when there's a tangy potato salad like aloo chaat on the buffet line. Alas, oversalting made sag paneer, the creamed spinach curry of which I am so fond, less dimensional and compelling than the best of the breed. And an excess of salt (not to mention oil) likewise got in the way of an opulent vegetable curry, dum aloo, whose small spheres of potato seemed strangely slick-textured, as if they had come from a can.
Good, aromatic creamed lentils compensated, though, as did a multi-vegetable navrattan curry bristling with delicious okra and green peppers, plus just enough green chile to liven the mix. Tender butter chicken swam in a mild, gingery bath that had a nice vinegar bite and (again) too much salt; a lamb curry du jour sported many bones and a forgettable sauce. To balance all the richness and hyperkinetic seasoning: the cool, brisk yogurt salad called raita, and simple slices of ripe watermelon.
At the end, there's the requisite rice pudding in a nice, gentle version. But why should hot tea to go with it cost $1.75 for an undistinguished tea bag and a little water?
Bottom line: if you're in the Galleria neighborhood, the Bombay Palace is a decent lunch choice; if they'd get their salt content under control, it could be better than that. The pink-and-blue color scheme may be unfortunate, but the service is deft; even someone who's been spoiled by the wonderfully differentiated and accomplished buffet at the Khyber Grill can walk out of here feeling reasonably satisfied.
-- Alison Cook
18-dish lunch buffet, $8.95.
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