Indian food stands alone in the buffet world for its beautiful colors and enticing aromas.
At Naan & Dosa, the new restaurant in Academy Acres, the buffet line begins with a massive pot of basmati rice and a tureen of soup. Beyond that stretch pans filled with dishes in lovely shades of yellow, orange and red. Placards placed above each pan identify items from the familiar to the obscure. And then, the vivid colors are repeated in miniature at the chutney bar.
Naan & Dosa opened this past summer in a corner of Plaza@6501, a small mixed-use center on the west side of Wyoming across from Albuquerque Academy. The stretch of road is very busy, but the restaurant’s entrance is on the other side and looks out on a small, fairly tranquil parking lot.
The dining room is clean and spacious, with lots of light coming in from the windows that line three sides of the room. Slide shows of scenes from India flicker on a couple of wall-mounted flatscreen TVs.
The buffet at Naan & Dosa is more utilitarian. Half of the buffet sits in aluminum pans under heat lamps, while the other half is heated by cans of Sterno placed under the pans.
The enthusiasm was palpable during a recent lunch hour. A group of construction workers made frequent forays to the buffet, while, at a nearby table, a beer distributor discussed drink options with the manager. Presumably, there will be booze available here in the near future.
Northern India-inspired dishes baked in tandoor ovens share space with the fiery dishes of the south. Prices are consistent with those of other Albuquerque Indian restaurants.
The lunch buffet ($12.99) offers a sampling of appetizers, entrees and desserts. The day I was there, there were nine dishes and two desserts, along with the soup and rice. Note: In the descriptions below, I’ve listed the Ã la carte prices next to each item.
Working your way down the line, you start with basmati rice ($3.50) flecked with peas and fragrant with cardamom and cloves. Next to that stood a cauldron of Madras Tomato Soup ($3.99), a terrific variation of the form with subtle hints of curry, mustard seeds and coconut milk.
Vegetable Pakora ($3.99) is made by frying cauliflower florets and sliced potatoes in a batter made with chickpea flour. Naan & Dosas’ buffet version features nuggets of various shapes and sizes fried to a medium brown. They were very good, like a nuttier, cumin-tinged version of French fries, and paired well with chutneys ranging from an intensely sweet-and-sour tamarind to a bracing mint.
Also hitting that comfort food sweet spot was the Aloo Matar, a simple Punjabi dish of potatoes and peas cooked with various Indian spices, special to the buffet. The peas still had some snap, and the perfectly cooked potato chunks carried a bit of heat.
Naan & Dosa’s Saag Paneer ($12.95), spinach cooked with cream and cottage cheese-like paneer, is much silkier and lighter than other versions around town. The flavor was discreet, with just a faint hint of spinach.
Problems arose along the next stretch of the buffet, where the pans were being heated by cans of Sterno. The Butter Chicken ($14.99), made with dark meat from the tandoor in a creamy tomato-based sauce, was noticeably underheated.
So too was the Beef Kofta Curry, another dish special to the buffet. The small meatballs, finely minced and set in a sauce with a strong beefy flavor, were barely warm. Perhaps the Sterno heaters had gone out?
The buffet winds up with two desserts. Kheer ($3.95) is a runny basmati rice pudding with just a touch of sweetness. On the other end of the spectrum sits Gulab Jamun ($3.95), deep-fried cheese balls in a sweet cardamom syrup. It’s decadent treat, the spongy cheese balls soaked to busting with the syrup.
The buffet comes with the restaurant’s namesake naan and dosa. Both were credible, the garlic naan blistered and shiny with ghee, the dosa thin and lacy, and ideal for tearing up and dipping in sauces and chutneys.
The drink menu includes several variations of Lassi ($3.50), the yogurt drink of northern India that pairs so well with spicy foods. The mango version was the first one I’ve seen in recent memory served with ice cubes. This was not a bad thing: It made the drink even more refreshing.
I also ordered a Tandoori Chicken ($12.99) to go. The bone-in, half-chicken was lightly scored on the skin side to help the spicy yogurt marinade penetrate into the meat. The chicken was moist and redolent with lemon and garlic. It came with rice, but, at that price, they should have thrown in some naan.
Service was friendly and attentive. There are plenty of gluten-free and vegan options, and such items are marked clearly on the menu and at the buffet line.
Academy Acres, south of Paseo del Norte and east of Intertate 25, hasn’t had an Indian restaurant since India Grill closed at this location two years ago. A few glitches aside, Naan & Dosa seems poised to be a worthy successor.