In Buffalo, Indian cuisine is no longer the exotic, mysterious experience it was a generation ago. It’s become a routine part of many diners’ monthly menus, leading to a proliferation of area Indian restaurants. ¶ I walked into Jewel of India glad that regular customers of the Hertel Avenue restaurant strip had finally gotten an Indian choice. It’s run by the same family that operates India Gate on Elmwood Avenue and Taste of India in Amherst, my most-visited Indian place, and home to my favorite Indian lunch buffet. ¶ Jewel of India is already popular. There were about 20 customers when we walked in on a Friday night, and the room was mostly full when we left. The tables are set with white tablecloths and red napkins.
We ordered a plethora of fried appetizers: gobi pakora ($2.95), cauliflower in chickpea batter; samosas ($2.95), pastries stuffed with spiced potatoes and peas; samosa chaat ($5.95), more of those pastries smothered in yogurt, mint chutney and tamarind sauce; and gobi manchoorian ($8.95), battered cauliflower tossed with onions, bell peppers, herbs and tangy chile sauce.
I asked for three kinds of bread, puri ($1.25), puffy fried wheat bread; naan ($1.95), standard flatbread; and alu paratha ($2.95), whole wheat bread stuffed with spiced potatoes.
For entrees, we got chicken tandoori ($10.95), yogurt-marinated roast chicken; and seekh kabab ($10.95), spiced ground beef baked on a skewer. We ordered three curries, coconut-based chicken malai ($12.95), yogurt-based beef josh ($12.95) and lamb mushroom ($12.95), plus the chicken biryani ($12.95), an enriched rice pilaf.
The samosas and gobi pakora, served on the same plate, were lukewarm and soft, lacking the crispness of freshly fried food. The samosa chaat was a tasty mess, but was short on tamarind sauce, letting the yogurt sourness and chutney heat take over.
The gobi manchoorian was a zingy pleasure, with its sparingly applied sweet-spicy sauce serving as able foil to the fried cauliflower’s richness. The sauce meant all the pepper and onions got gobbled up, too.
The naan bread was lovely, supple and slightly charred in the tandoor. Instead of being puffed up like a warm balloon, our puri was flat and room temperature. The alu paratha was chewy, though the potato filling was well-seasoned.
With two servers working that I could see, service was leisurely. Our sizzling platter of tandoori chicken was delivered, but we had no plates. By the time our server returned, three or four minutes later, the sizzle was gone. Everybody enjoyed the chicken anyway, with its charred edges from the tandoor.
The seekh kabab was enjoyable, with tender cylinders of meat in a sweet ketchupy sauce with chunks of onions and peppers.
The chicken malai was a crowd-pleaser with mild, faintly coconut-scented gravy. The beef josh, tangy with tomato and yogurt, had a delicious sauce as well. But the meat in both the chicken and beef dishes was chewy, tending toward dryness, not having been cooked long enough to relax the meat into tenderness. Chicken biryani was moist and subtly scented with cloves and cinnamon, but lacked the rich overtones of the best examples, and the nuggets of chicken were also chewy.
To be sure, getting chewy meat in your curry isn’t unheard-of in Indian restaurants. But the better ones – including Taste of India – usually manage to avoid it. The lamb and mushroom version at Jewel of India did have tender meat that came apart easily with a fork, and plump mushrooms.
Desserts ($3.50) included kheer, milky rice pudding with fat raisins; gulab jamun, a pair of grainy cheese balls fried and soaked in syrup; and mango kulfee, or ice cream, which was a fruity treat despite plentiful ice crystals.
In the end, Jewel of India’s cooking was decent enough for a neighborhood place. Until the kitchen gets more detail-oriented, though, I wouldn’t make a special trip to dine there.
Jewel of India: Six plates (Out of 10)
Crowd-pleasing favorites fill Hertel Avenue Indian outpost.
WHERE: 1264 Hertel Ave. (877-1264, jewelofindiabuffalo.com)
HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (buffet $8.95), dinner 4:30 to 10 p.m.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers and breads, $1.25-$9.95; entrees, $9.95-$19.95. Lunch buffet, $8.95.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.