There's been lots of discussion about the proliferation of barbeque restaurants around town in the past year or so. But under the radar, there's another kind of restaurant that's absolutely mushrooming up. We've seen a near-explosion of Indian spots hereabouts, and I, for one, intend to pay attention to them. I'm missing the Curry Mate, alas, but sometimes eating alone can give opportunity for interesting and instructive conversations.
Just as I began to realize this increase, I came across Peshwa. Subtitled The Royal Indian Cuisine and located on Page between I-170 and Lindbergh, it's where the original Gokul was. (Parking at the side and back of the building.) Lunch buffet, like most of the local South Asian restaurants, is $9, very reasonable. It's not an immense buffet, but it's certainly an interesting one. And the diners, early in the period the buffet runs (it opens at 11.30 a.m.), certainly appeared to be people who'd know what they were eating. Even better, when I looked at the buffet, there were dishes that weren't the standard ones found all over town. Some classics, yes, but others - well, read on.
A particularly gracious note is that on the sneeze guards over the buffet, the name of each dish was written. Primarily vegetarian options; the three chicken items were on another buffet from the vege ones. And since the real strength of the various cuisines of India is, at least to me, in their vegetables, here was where the interest level went up. Because the first thing I noticed was cabbage. I've never seen it on an Indian menu, and I admit that, cooked, it's not one of my favorite vegetables. But this could woo almost anyone, not spicy-hot but deeply savory, mixed with cooked mung beans, it was delicious. Vegetable korma, creamy and lightly sweet, as it should be, charmed, and so did a thicker, slightly spicier chickpea chana masala.
Also a surprise were hara bhara, vegetable kebabs - not on skewers, mind you, but dark chunks that were emerald green inside, a little chewy, a really subtle but complex flavor. I'm sure there was spinach in there and chickpea flour, or gram. They must have been deep-fried, but they weren't at all greasy. Dal, the lentils always found on such buffets, were described as "fried". The flavor was sort of sweet-spicy with a little sour note in it, and the frying refers to the cooking of seasonings. Another new dish was sprouted matki, or moth, beans, rather small, like alfalfa sprouts in terms of size - not a particularly handsome dish, but an interesting one.
Three chicken dishes, tandoori, nice and smoky, butter chicken, a curry we don't see much of but deserving of applause, very creamy and rich, and what they called malvani chicken, "malvani" referring to a part of Goa and an adjacent province. Coconut, common in that southern cooking, but lots of other things, and a little sweet. All the chicken dishes except the malvani were barely warm, unlike the vegetarian options.
A stack of very crisp and fresh pappadums awaited, with the sweet tamarind and the spicy cilantro chutneys. Raita, the cooling yogurt sauce, had more than just a few cucumber bits in it, too. The naan was fresh, buttery and absolutely addictive, the best I've had in a long time. There was dessert, too, a pan that looked liked mashed sweet potatoes but was marked pineapple sheera. It's a semolina pudding, seasoned with cardamom, whose somewhat citrus-y flavor plays nicely with the crushed pineapple.
The evening menu, too, is different - fewer of the appetizers are deep-fried, there are seven different kinds of chaat, the savory snack-y dishes and lots of vegetarian entrees.
As I was paying my bill, I remarked to the woman at the cash register who seemed to be the manager that it was nice to see different foods. "So many dishes from all parts of India," she explained. "Why keep putting out the same things?" Wise woman. Good food.
10633 Page Avenue
Lunch and Dinner Wed.-Mon.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Lunch Buffet: $9