All You Can Curry – Monsoon India’s Buffet
Vanessa Wolf is a former head chef, previously working in Portland, Oregon. She offers her blunt assessments in the interests of honesty and improving Maui’s culinary scene.
By Vanessa Wolf
Indian food lovers rejoice! Maui finally has an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet.
Granted, it’s only on Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and yes, you’ll pay about twice what you might on the mainland…but hey, it’s Maui, and that’s how we roll ($17.95 per person, although adventurous eaters aged three to 10 are just $9.95) .
Arriving at 1:30 p.m., the buffet was already winding down. As a result, the naan (leavened flatbread) was not so fresh. However, a request to the waitress soon resulted in the prompt delivery of a hot basket of delicious, perfectly charred goodness directly to the table.
The buffet offerings vary slightly, but a few items appear to be standard week after week. Of course, there is always basmati rice – notable for its nutty flavor – and mint and tamarind chutneys. There are modest portions of each item available in the chafing dishes: that is because fresh food is regularly brought out as the dishes get low. This approach to buffet management is an absolute plus to the Monsoon India experience.
The Chana Masala, a traditional north Indian dish featuring chick peas in a tomato-based sauce had a pronounced (read: maybe a little too pronounced) cardamom flavor and was pretty salty. Beware the giant cardamom pods. They look a bit like large golden raisins, but biting into one is akin to squirting perfume into your mouth: no bueno. Unexpected and rather unpleasant cardamom pod experience aside, the dish had nice flavor and perfectly cooked chickpeas.
Hallelujah – the Tandoori Chicken is also standard weekly fare. Don’t be put off by the fluorescent orange color: it’s absolutely delicious. One marvels how they get the white breast meat – sitting over a Sterno can on a buffet no less – so incredibly moist. The smoky flavor is also spot-on divine. For reasons unknown, Indian restaurants always cut chicken pieces into really funky shapes, so watch out for random bits of bone.
Speaking of chicken, the Chicken Tikka Masala makes regular appearances as well. It seems to involve the same Tandoori chicken and offers that remarkably moist meat. Admittedly, in combination with the yogurt and tomato sauce, the smoky flavor comes off as a little barbeque sauce-ish, but it’s still a nice dish.
The Dal Curry was extremely mild, even a little watery: it could double as Indian baby food. Along with the lentil base, there were the lightest flavors of cilantro and cumin. It’s important to note that on the whole and in contrast with what one might usually expect of Indian food, most of the buffet offerings have little to no spice.
The vegetable curry featured bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, and kidney beans and was mostly a success. The kidney beans retained a canned taste, but it was made up for by the unexpected spicy kick: the only one offered on the entire buffet.
For red meat lovers, the buffet often features Lamb Vindaloo. Holy cardamom, Batman! On this occasion, the flowery flavor – and once again those pesky pods – was overpowering, taking away from the gamey richness of the lamb. That’s a shame, and with a little tweaking this could be quite yummy.
The Aloo Saag is a mixture of giant potato chunks in a rich spinach curry: the dish has great flavor and a nice mix of cumin, cardamom, and turmeric spice profiles. By far it was the favorite of the entire buffet.
Lastly, for dessert there was Carrot Pudding. It had whole cashews – a nice touch – but was cloyingly sweet. It was an interesting and vibrant orange color, but otherwise kind of flavorless except for the taste of sweetened condensed milk.
All in all, like most buffets, there are highs and lows. However, as it is a buffet, there is the opportunity to sample small amounts of everything and return only for what you find appealing. That stated, should you find yourself in North Kihei on a Sunday afternoon, are craving Indian, and have an Andrew Jackson burning a hole in your pocket, consider a stop at Monsoon India.
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