If you’ve been to one Indian restaurant buffet you’ve been to them all. Most places make a decent chicken tikka masala or spinach paneer. I’ve been to some really bad Indian buffets, but most of them are pretty solid. The draw for most Indian buffets is their location — I usually pick one of the five I enjoy eating at based on where I’ll be before lunch or where I’ll need to go after. There’s one in Middleton, one on the far west side, one by West Towne Mall, one on the near west side, one right downtown and now one just opened up in Fitchburg. Haveli opened up on McKee Road in the same strip mall as Subway and Barriques.
Haveli is on the end of the strip mall so it has a ton of windows, which makes the expansive dining room nice and bright. The signs are very colorful, which grabbed my attention. The buffet is off to the side and is broken off from the rest of the dinning room with dividers, which I really liked.
They had pretty standard offerings on their buffet: chutneys, spinach naan, chicken tikka masala, paneer masala, beef curry and samosa chat. The perfectly firm paneer was great, and the creamy masala sauce had a good depth of spices that went really well with the spinach naan. The spinach naan was standard (I wish buffets could figure out a way to keep their naan crispy and not soggy). The onion chutney was a surprise. It had a good kick of flavor on top of the expected pickle flavor, which went really went on top of the beef curry. Samosa chat is samosas broken into pieces served with chana masala (a chickpea dish), yogurt sauce and chutneys on top. I’ve never seen samosa chat on a buffet. First, I’m glad they put it on the buffet so I could try it…I really liked it! It is a lot of things on an Indian buffet that I like all in one dish. Second, I wish the samosas would have been a lot less mushy, but maybe that’s the only way to serve a samosa on a buffet. The sauces in all of the dishes could have used a little more spice, but none of the buffets I’ve ever been to serve up spicy dishes.
FOOD NOTES: Haveli is a very respectable option for Indian food if you’re in the Fitchburg area. I applaud them for putting samosa chat on the buffet, which is not a typical buffet dish. Haveli’s traditional buffet offerings (chicken tikka masala, paneer, naan, beef curry) were decent, but their masala sauce had a deeper layer of flavors than most buffet masala sauces. The onion chutney was also better than normal with an extra spiciness. The other unique thing about Haveli is that their buffet is $8.95, which is a dollar less than all of the other Indian buffets…not a very significant amount, but could still be part of the decision-making process if deciding between two buffets.
In the six years I’ve lived in Madison it seems like a new restaurant has opened every year . Some have been better than others, and some closed before I got a chance to try them out. The good thing is most of the new options have been opening up on the west side so they’re easy for me to get to. The newest addition to the Indian buffet lineup is Minerva on Junction Road. Minerva opened in a spot that has been empty in a strip mall for quite a while. The space is very tiny with a pieced-together buffet in the corner and only about a dozen tables.
I don’t claim to be an Indian food expert, but I do enjoy a good buffet once in a while. I like it when the buffet offers a couple traditional options alongside the regulars: chicken tikka masala and dal. My favorite dish is malai kofta, but the day we went they didn’t have that on the buffet.
Everything I got had a good flavor and was steamy hot (it bothers me when buffet food is luke warm). The fry fish was moist and not too fishy. The chicken tikka masala had a good curry flavor, and the chicken was tender. The paneer masala had a very similar sauce to the chicken tikka masala, and the paneer had a good texture (no one likes mushy paneer!). I’m not generally a fan of chats except for the onion flavor. Minerva’s onion chat was surprisingly good. It looked like the traditional onion chat, but it had a nice spice balanced by a tangy pickle flavor. The one thing that disappointed me was on my second trip up to the buffet there wasn’t any chicken tikka masala.
The most surprising thing I got was a little deep-fried lentil and veggie ball. I wish I had written the name of it down so I could order it again. It was crispy and hot, and was perfect for dipping in the tikka masala sauce. Most buffets I’ve been to give you a basket of naan, but at Minerva they give you a dosa…I think it was a veggie dosa. A dosa is a super light and airy pancake made with lentil flour, and it usually has a little filing on the inside. Minerva’s dosa was clearly made in advance, and the filing was mostly flavorless. I would have preferred naan, so I didn’t have to find room for it on my plate up at the buffet. The garlic naan on the buffet was great…not too much garlic or cilantro.
FOOD NOTES: I’m always up for a good Indian food buffet, so I’m super happy Minerva opened up on my normal errand-running route. The service was a little awkward, but mostly attentive. The $10 price tag is on par for an Indian buffet, and the amount of options was standard. I wouldn’t say there’s anything spectacular about Minerva’s food or buffet options, but it is good, solid Indian food in a good location. I hope they have malai kofta on the buffet next time I go.