My renewed survey of the Twin Cities Metro’s Indian restaurant scene took an unexpected turn last week. I had an appointment in Minneapolis that ran a little longer than I’d expected and I found myself on the highway, approaching Bloomington and feeling too hungry to wait to get home to eat lunch. I remembered just in time that I’d been told that there was an Indian restaurant named Surabhi right off the exit at 98th street that was supposedly quite good. And so I did something I rarely choose to do: I stopped at an Indian restaurant for their lunch buffet. Did I regret this as soon as I started eating? Read on.
First of all, Surabhi is indeed literally right off the exit for 98th street. Not wanting to mess with my phone while driving, I guessed a direction and went east, and it was right there, in the massive strip mall at Lyndale. It’s a large restaurant and so it was all the more striking how empty it was. I was in fact the only customer when I arrived at about 1.30. There was no sign of a buffet either but when I asked I was told by the lone server that it was set up in a little room at the back. Can I take a look at it, I asked? He readily assented and I gave it the once-over. It didn’t look too dire and so I grabbed a table and got down to bidness.
There was a pretty decent spread for a weekday, with a good selection of both non-vegetarian and vegetarian dishes. I’m guessing (hoping) that they get a bigger lunch crowd between noon and 1 pm. I don’t think anything had been replenished very recently before I got there—and I didn’t see it being replenished after I got there either—but braised Indian dishes don’t suffer from sitting around—in fact, they often improve—and so this did not bother me. The naan, however, was not in an optimal state as a result; the bhaturas they had laid out next to the chhole, however, would not have been optimal even when fresh—they were cut into wedges for some reason and were far too crisp. But that pretty much concludes my major criticisms. Everything else I tasted was decent at worst and far better than I’d hoped. And one dish was unexpectedly excellent.
The only real nods to mainstream expectations, beyond the naan, were tandoori chicken and butter chicken. I passed on the latter and tried a piece of the former: I found it to be nicely marinated and tenderized; I bet it would have been dynamite if eaten right after it had been brought out. Oh yes, there was biryani too, both veg and non-veg. I tried some of the non-veg (chicken) version and found it to be nicely, subtly spiced as well. What else did I eat? A piece of something called pepper chicken. It was neon red/purple from food colouring but was rather tasty—nicely spiced and fried to a crisp. Also fried nicely were the potato pakoras. The goat curry, tadka dal, potato curry and chhole all had the flavour profile of home cooking—no cream or nut pastes to be found—and I enjoyed them all. The goat was even properly tender (unlike at Bay Leaf).
So what was the unexpectedly excellent dish? Against my better judgment I got a gulab jamun and some gajar/carrot halwa. The gulab jamun was decent—not dense or cold in the middle as too many Indian restaurant versions in the US are. But it was the gajar halwa that took me by surprise: it was not gloopy or sugary sweet—the two major problems in Indian restaurant versions in the US; indeed, it compared well to versions I’ve had in the homes of Punjabi friends in Delhi. I’ve no idea if it’s always this good or if I happened on them on a day when the chef had been paying particular attention but I look forward to trying it again.
For pictures of the restaurant and the food, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for quick thoughts on service and to see how much it cost.
The server was obviously not being run ragged. I was not demanding and second customer only came in as I was finishing up with my meal. He re-filled water without being asked and that’s about as much as you can ask for at a buffet lunch.
Cost: $16.99. This is probably on the high side for weekday lunch buffets (those of you who eat at more Indian lunch buffets than me can tell me if that’s true). That said, it didn’t seem out of keeping with either the quality or the range of dishes on offer. Frankly, the gajar halwa was better than expensive desserts I’ve eaten recently at far fancier restaurants in the Twin Cities. Surabhi will certainly be on my radar now for emergency lunches off the 35 in the South Metro and I may indeed try to put a group together to go eat dinner there later in the summer or fall.
Up next on the food front: the last of my Los Angeles reports from January (!). There’ll then be a bunch of Canadian reports. And my review of Indian (-ish), which I have finally started writing, will be in there somewhere too.
You might want to give Malabari another shot on the westbank sometime.
The triangular bhaturas could have been uncooked tortillas cut into 4 and fried. Common shortcut among Indian home cooks in the US.
Maybe. They looked like over-fried pooris to me.