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Review of Raj Palace – Authentic South Indian Cuisine

Summary: an authentic line-up of traditional South Indian cuisine and the reasonable prices make Raj Palace a worthwhile addition to the nascent South Indian food scene in Calgary.

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Raj Palace is one of those places that’s 5 min. away from my place but for one reason or the other, has never been very high up on my priority list. I promised a friend dinner after bitching out on him at the last minute at an unrelated event. James, who is also of South Indian descent, had mentioned that Raj Palace had a full on South Indian lunch buffets ($12.99) on Sundays, so this was the natural choice to visit on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Indian cuisine is very diverse, just like its geography and culture. Most non-Indians are only familiar with North Indian cooking, typified by the most-famous-of-them-all: butter chicken. I myself am a big fan of North Indian fare. However, the latter tends to be fairly rich and heavy and isn’t something you want to have everyday. South Indian food tends to be lighter, easier on the heart cholesterol-wise, and doesn’t put you to sleep after every meal. That said, a large part of the cuisine is rice-based, so it’s not any lighter on the calories.

Funnily enough, Raj Palace used to be Mysore Palace. However, the interior is almost exactly the same as before. Frankly, the only visible difference is the “Raj Palace” banner that sits on the exterior in place of where “Mysore Palace” used to be. In fact, the serving plates still say “Mysore Palace” on them…hahaha. So brown… 

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The interior was a bit dark for a Sunday afternoon, but very spacious, clean, and inviting. You could sit in a booth for a more intimate affair or at one of the tables if you didn’t care about privacy. The impression I was left with was that management and staff put a lot of time and effort to make this place clean and spotless…almost like you could eat off the floor.

We jumped into the buffet right away, which like J. promised, offered almost exclusively all South Indian items. Raj Palace had all the traditional South Indian offerings ranging from items such as the more traditional idli (rice cakes), dosa (rice crepes), and vada (doughnut shaped lentil-based fritters), to the lesser known items such as tomato bath and uppama (seasoned cream of wheat porridge). In addition, the buffet offered other staples such as sambar (spicy lentil broth). All in all, I was pretty impressed by line of vegetarian South Indian offerings.

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There were also a bunch on non-veg dishes which I didn’t pay any attention to. Typically Richard or Kent would cover this aspect, so I usually don’t pay attention to the meat offerings. I guess it’s my way of saying f-you to all the non-vegetarians out there.

Like Southern Spice, Raj Palace also offered unlimited dosas as part of the buffet. The dosas were fresh, warm, crispy, and went well with the sambar. However, they paled in comparison to the ones offered at Southern Spice – those just transported me back to the motherland!

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Idli/dosa/vada are typically eaten for breakfast or as a snack, so the buffet also included some main courses such as potato fry and other items. They were also tasty, but nothing to get too excited about.

The service level was also very good. Our server was very attentive, refilling our glasses constantly, or taking away used dishes. The only thing that irritated me a little was the lack of little cups (shown in the pic above) to hold the sambar or other chutneys. Those seemed to be in a constant short supply.

Summary

AFAIK, including Raj Palace, Calgary has three restaurants offering distinct South Indian cuisine. The other two are: Southern Spice and Canada Dosa Corner. Of these, Canada Dosa Corner is the hands-down winner. That said, Raj Palace is a great alternative to get your South Indian fix and offers a very authentic range of dishes at a very reasonable price. They also apparently now offer a limited selection of hakka cuisine, which is another plus (although I haven’t tried it out).

Ranking

Kiran
Ambiance 4/6
Service 4/6
Plating N/A
Taste 4/6
Originality Authenticity 5.5/6
Value 5/6
Overall 22.5/30 = 75%
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Quick Review of Pushpita Indian Restaurant

Summary: an adequate Indian restaurant that is best served as a quick fix to your Indian craving

After having spent a couple of days in the metropolis of Northern Alberta known as Peace River, I was ready to come back to good ol’ Calgary and savour the sights and sounds of a big city once again. I was super-hungry getting off the flight, so the first thing I did after dropping my bags off was to head out to Pushpita, which is only a few blocks from my place. I have been eyeing this restaurant for a while now, but hadn’t had a chance to patronize it. Today was going to be the day…

I didn’t want to hang around and have the full restaurant experience, so I decided to get a couple of items to go: paneer masala ($10.99), dal ($9.99), and garlic naan ($2.50). The items weren’t over-priced, but considering Pushpita isn’t in downtown central, I was expecting the prices to be a bit lower. Their take-out lunch buffet is also $10.99, so ordering items a la carte, unfortunately, is not going to be a an everyday occurrence.

Anyways, onto the food.  The paneer masala was the first item I wanted to try as paneer (Indian cottage cheese) in anything is one of my most favourite things. In this case, it was paneer cooked in a (watery) broth of bell peppers, onions, carrots, and Indian spices.

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I like to taste the broth first as it’s the part that’s exploding with flavour. I was a bit surprised and disappointed with the broth: surprised ‘cause the broth was spicier than I was expecting; disappointed ‘cause it tasted like the chef threw in a much of chilli powder just to spice things up. The paneer was also a bit uneven as there were some pieces that were soft and chewy whereas other pieces were harder – odd as both varieties tasted the same. Overall, I enjoyed the dish, but I have had better.

Next up was the daal, which was a perfect dish for a cloudy day. Daal is a simple dish that consists of lentils in a simple broth mix of mustard seeds, cumin, and red chillies. It’s one of the most basic of Indian dishes that you shouldn’t, nay, can’t screw up. In retrospect, I should have had it after the paneer masala as the more complex spice mix simply overwhelmed the simpler daal. It tasted alright, but I have nothing really to add apart from that.

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Where the naan in all this, you might ask? The naan served as the sponge to soak up all the spicy goodness in both dishes. Once again, the naan was nothing to write home about: although it was soft, it was also weirdly chewy. The end effect was that it felt like I was chewing on doughy naan. It was edible no doubt, but it’s nothing compared to buttery, flaky, soft naan served at more well-heeled establishments.

So, all-in-all, I wasn’t blown away by this little restaurant. I was really hoping to discover a hidden jewel, perhaps much like Canada Dosa Corner, but found instead, a mediocre restaurant that will serve as a temporary fix for my Indian craving from time to time.

The final saving grace is that they have a pretty extensive menu consisting of meat, poultry, seafood, and vegetarian dishes (that’s probably part of the reason for the mediocre food – spread too thin), so I just might get some other vegetarian options to taste. Stay tuned!

Pushpita Fine Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Review of Southern Spice Restaurant (South Indian Cuisine)

Summary: An adequate restaurant with good value for money (and some pretty tasty offerings) that can be more than it is right now.

India is such a diverse country that evenIMG_0026 the cuisine varies from region to region. India can be roughly divided into the four corners of the compass, where each region has it’s own unique blend of spices and dishes.

Most people in Calgary are probably only familiar with North Indian cuisine, with restaurants serving up their standard fair of butter chicken, aloo gobi, mutter paneer, chana masala, etc. that taste oh-so-good but also are pretty rich.

Personally, I am originally from the south of India, so North Indian cuisine is always a treat for me. South Indian dishes tend to be heavily rice-based and plainer than their North Indian cousins. Geographically this makes sense as North India is drier and cooler (during winters), whereas southern India is pretty much a tropical paradise where rice grows abundant.

It’s great to see that Calgary is slowly developing an alternative to what’s typically offered at well-established stalwarts such as Glory of India and Namskar. We personally reviewed one such hidden-gem – Canada Dosa Corner – which became such an instant hit with all our friends that we had to seek out other similar restaurants and see if they matched up.

Walking into the restaurant is a bit discombobulating as the exterior doesn’t match the interior whatsoever. The place appears pretty unremarkable and drab from the outside, but on the inside, it’s actually quite dramatic. The high ceilings together with plenty of natural light gave the place a “tiffin hall” feel that is reminiscent of those in India. All in all, it actually worked quite well.

We had the option of either going for the buffet or a la carte. In the interests of checking out their entire offerings, we opted for the buffet, which also came with unlimited (!) dosas. We immediately went over to the buffet area to check out their offerings. I was pretty wowed by the number of the dishes in the buffet.

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The buffet had all the traditional South Indian dishes like rasam, sambar, medu veda, radish curry, and paysam, which all tasted pretty authentic, but also watered down. They were spicy, but almost spicy for the sake of being spicy – like they added a couple of tablespoons of chilli powder just to bring the heat up. There was a coconut-infused broccoli dish that tasted delicious, but is traditionally prepared with carrots. It was weird though, tasting an Indian dish made from non-traditional ingredients. There was also a chowmein noodle thrown in for good measure. it wasn’t too bad, but kinda felt like French fries at a Chinese buffet. It was all fairly generic.

The dosas were another story though. Hot off the pan, they were more soft than crispy, but the stuffing of masala potato was pretty amazing. The combination of the sambar and masala dosa was also pretty tasty. The most delectable part of the night was the potato fry. It was a bit greasy, but it was the perfect combination of sweet, salty, and spicy. It wasn’t as crispy as I would have liked it to be, but that’s just nitpicking.

Overall, I felt like this place doesn’t know what it wants to be. Part of me wants to break my own rule and revisit the restaurant to give it another chance (primarily cause a brown co-worker of mine loved it), but that remains to be seen. If you want another viewpoint, Foodosophy has a great review on Southern Spice that is also slightly mixed.

Richard’s Ruminations

For whatever reason, Indian food and buffets seem to be as common a pairing as wine and cheese, and Southern Spice is no exception.  However, their offering of freshly-made dosas as part of the buffet seemed to be a nice little addition that sets them apart from your everyday self-serve-curry line.

Unlike most Indian buffet places in Calgary, this place has a very sparse selection of non-vegetarian options – in this case, only fish or chicken curry, and they were all out of chicken.  I opted not to try the fish curry either as it had eggplant in it, which, unfortunately, I am allergic to (Hmm, I did not know that.  –Kiran)

One of the downsides of a buffet is that the food could have been sitting there for quite a while – and when we went, it sure seemed like that was the case.  This doesn’t matter for curries, really, but the pakoras were not very hot and were crunchy (instead of crispy) – kind of a shame, since they tasted pretty good and would likely have been pretty awesome hot out of the fryer.  Unlike Kiran, I thought the curry noodles was one of the better tasting dishes, despite being some kind of rip-off of Chinese cuisine Winking smile  (It’s hakka)

As for the dosas – the do have the huge-ass ones available, but not as part of the buffet – instead, the buffet dosas are the size of a side plate, and come out upon order from the kitchen.  Probably smart that they come out in that size, given that it’s all-you-can-eat!  I found the dosas to be kind of greasy, soft, and a little more sour than the ones at Dosa Corner – but the filling was still quite tasty.

South Indian food doesn’t rank among my favourite cuisines, so I didn’t eat until the point of gastro-intestinal rupture, but it still seemed like a reasonably valued buffet.

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Ranking

  Richard Kiran Kent
Ambiance 4/6 4/6 N/A
Service 1.5/3 4/6 N/A
Plating N/A N/A N/A
Taste 3/6 4/6 N/A
Authenticity 5/6 5/6 N/A
Value 4.5/6 5/6 N/A
Overall 18/27 = 66% 22/30 =73 %

 

Southern Spice on Urbanspoon