Spices’ lunch soars over mediocre menu
by Aidan Morgan
Spices of Punjab
320 Victoria Avenue E
The greatest invention the world has ever seen is lunch, especially when you consider how often you miss breakfast. It shows up right in the middle of the day, it gets you the hell away from whatever mind-numbing task you were grinding out at your desk, and sometimes it even comes in a paper bag. What more could you ask for?
If lunch is our greatest invention, then the second greatest invention is the lunch buffet. Weekday restaurant lunches are severely constrained by time. Sure, you gross an hour’s worth of lunch, but once you deduct transportation, seating, ordering and bathroom breaks, you’re netting 30-35 minutes of actual meal time at best.
Spices Of Punjab’s lunch buffet redeems at least 15 minutes of that traditionally lost time. In theory you could run into the restaurant at top speed and start throwing butter chicken into your mouth in 10 seconds.
Most people will wait to be seated before bouncing up from the Naugahyde booth and springing toward the heat lamps, however.
Spices of Punjab, one of Regina’s most popular southeast Asian restaurants, has an admirable buffet ($12.95) that mixes expected fare like butter chicken, channa masala and pakoras with surprises like lamb dopiaza (an oniony curry dish). None of it qualifies as the most outstanding Indian food that I’ve had in my life but it makes for a deeply satisfying lunchtime meal. Prairie Dog readers voted Spices of Punjab as Best Lunch Buffet in our recent 2013 Best of Food issue, and I have no quibbles with that result.
During the meal, our server brought round naan and pieces of tandoori chicken. I’ve never been a huge fan of tandoor cooking, but for those who can’t imagine an Indian lunch buffet without it (probably everybody but me), the tandoori chicken flows like a bright red river at Spices of Punjab.
Don’t ask for a bright red river of chicken, though. There are no good outcomes to that scenario.
I didn’t see any samosas in the lunch buffet. Not a one. Maybe I was struck with samosa blindness, but I would have loved to start my meal off with a samosa or two. How else am I going to get my daily allotment of potatoes in dough?
Otherwise, great lunch.
For our evening visit, I took a few Knights of Appetite, including someone from Hyderabad who could, I hoped, guide some of our party through the menu and provide an informed opinion. As it turned out, her informed opinion matched everyone else’s: when it comes to supper, Spices of Punjab is disappointing. Not a particularly bad meal, maybe, but certainly not a great experience.
We started off well, with a chole bhature appetizer. I liked the mildly spiced chick peas, and the bhature — voluminous hollow pieces of fried bread — was new for me. Nothing makes me happier than unknown fried bread.
To follow, we ordered lamb biryani ($16.95), bindhi ($11.95), chicken tikka ($13.95), lamb keema peace curry ($13.95) (the server insisted that ‘peace’ was not a menu typo, despite the abundance of peas in the dish and the paucity of Google results for ‘peace curry’) and a few orders of naan bread, including the garlic naan ($3.95) and the house naan ($4.25), which the kitchen stuffs with onion and chicken.
The best dishes of the evening were the chicken tikka, which was nice and dry — not a quality you want in most Western chicken dishes but desirable in a tandoor oven — and the lamb keema curry. Keema is a ground meat dish that can be prepared in a number of ways, and I enjoyed Punjab’s version.
Falling below those dishes were the bindhi (okra), which cheated by bulking out the dish with onions, and the naan breads. The house naan contained little more than flecks of chicken and overall it didn’t taste like much. It’s more worth your money just to order regular naan bread and use it to sop up the flavourful gravies and curries.
The lamb biryani was the least exciting thing we ordered. It was a moist rice dish, with chewy chunks of lamb and not much flavour (or heat — we ordered the hot version, and it barely tickled my throat). I’m used to a dry biryani with lots of pungent spices that have been fried to release their flavour.
My guest, who comes from what is essentially biryani country (or as I call it, Home of the Big Biryani) shrugged and simply said: “It’s not the real thing.”
In fairness, “the real thing” is not what Spices of Punjab is going for. They’re serving a Westernized version of Indian and Punjabi cuisine, great for a lunch meal with friends or takeout.
As a diner, that’s what I’ll be sticking with.
WHAT IS IT: Spices of Punjab
WHAT’S IT FOR: Lunch and supper. I recommend their lunch buffet.
WHEN’S IT OPEN: 11:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-10:00 p.m., Monday to Friday; 5:00-10:00 p.m.; 5:30-10:00 p.m., Sunday.
WHERE’S THE SAMOSAS? I don’t know. They weren’t on the buffet when I was there. I suppose one could always ask one’s friendly server for samosa assistance.