It was a 100-step journey from the far end of Peter Harris Plaza on Route 7 in Latham to Shalimar. We found a parking place in the ample lot right in front of the restaurant. At 11:45 a.m., the buffet of Pakistani and Indian food ($8.99) was in full lunch mode. More than half the dozen or so tables were occupied by everyone from students to retirees.
The L-shaped buffet table ran along the right wall, while tables accommodating two to 12 filled in the middle and the left wall. The entryway was populated with full-sized healthy plants, while the walls were adorned by large sequined hangings and what appeared to be delicate watercolors of various scenes of India. The cashier’s area, along with a tempting covered dish of baklava ($3.95), was located in the rear. The door to the kitchen lay to the right.
The host invited us to choose any table, and we opted for one in the middle of the room. I am by nature a people-watcher.
The buffet table included about a dozen and a half covered dishes and a scattering of condiments and sauces. Appetizers and salads occupied the first third of the table and rice, side dishes and entrees comprised nearly two-thirds of the space. Dessert brought up the rear. I decided to approach the buffet as I do any buffet with appetizers first followed by entrées and dessert — a clean plate for each trip to the table of course.
I requested tea ($2/unlimited cup), which arrived steaming with a hint of cardamom. John had a bottle of mango/orange juice drink ($2). Large glasses of ice water were served with a wedge of lemon.
Mulligatawny soup (literally “pepper soup”), made from tomatoes, lemon and spices (curry, salt, pepper, thyme) was hot and nippy. Thin slices of lemon floated attractively in the bowl.
Although the do-it-yourself salad was uninspired, the tomatoes, sliced cucumbers and iceberg were exceedingly fresh and were continually added to the buffet in small batches. It was the dressing that made the salad unusual and, I am guessing, low-calorie. Additions of cumin, coriander, ginger, turmeric, cayenne and pepper to yogurt, cider vinegar, lemon juice and honey made the salad extraordinary.
Even the plain Tandoori naan was magical. Chewed slowly, it revealed the sweetness otherwise undetected if swallowed quickly. Described as a pillowy Indian flatbread, in reality it contains both yeast and baking powder.
Although Palak Chole (spinach and chickpeas added to a tomato-onion paste and sautéed with spices) was absent from the menu, some form of the dish was clearly on the buffet table. Once again, along with rice, this would make a perfect meal.
Those of us with a tendency to over-eat often shy away from buffets. It is too tempting. But this Indian buffet had a built-in escape. I am guessing that at least half of the dishes were exclusively or mostly vegetables. Meat was surely present in the form of Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Tikka Masala (boneless chicken with peppers and onions in cream sauce) and Chicken Curry. Lamb meatballs were browned and paired nicely with basmati rice cooked with onions cumin.
Of course, there is an economical factor in presenting a buffet largely devoted to meatless dishes. Vegetables are generally less expensive than lamb, chicken, beef and seafood, and so even the over-eater will not cut into the profits.
Time is also a factor. The buffet is offered at lunch, and most people are probably restricted to an hour. Even a gourmand might not indulge himself to an overstuffed condition with limited time.
While dessert was limited to kheer (a sweet pudding of milk, rice, almonds and pistachios) with the buffet, it was also possible to purchase a triangle of baklava (sweet walnuts and almonds layered with filo) for $3.95.
Shalimar offers a complete dinner menu once the lunch buffet has ended at 2:30 p.m.
Shalimar Pakistani Indian Cuisine
WHERE: 952 Troy Schenectady Road, Latham, NY 12110, (518) 389-2500, http://www.shalimarlatham.com
WHEN: Mon.-Thu. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat 12-11 p.m., Sun 12-10 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $28 for two people without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Accessible (restaurant is on the same level as the outdoor sidewalk), mall parking lot, all major credit cards accepted (no personal checks), takeout, delivery, gift certificates.