Dining Out: Namaste offers a taste of India

Buffet’s brightly colored choices are hit-and-miss

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

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Why: If you’ve got a big appetite but want to get beyond the salad fixings, pizzas and macaroni that are hallmarks of traditional American buffets, Namaste Indian Cuisine offers a reasonably priced alternative. The all-you-can-eat buffet dishes up more than a dozen brightly colored choices, including chicken and lamb, red, yellow and green lentil dishes, and soft-serve mango ice cream for dessert.

Atmosphere: Located at Northeast 117th Avenue and Fourth Plain, Namaste’s interior matches its surroundings. It’s clean and tidy, but the 1970s-style wood paneling is hardly high class. A few paintings and a TV broadcasting Hindi language movies (with English subtitles) remind visitors of the restaurant’s cultural ties, but the space feels like an Americana-style diner that hasn’t quite been brought up to date.

What I tried: My dining companions and I tried nearly everything on the buffet, including several chicken dishes; the Mixed Vegetable Pakora, a lentil-based vegetable soup; Biryani Rice; several lentil-based curry dishes; two custardlike desserts; and both ice cream flavors — mango and coconut.

I also ordered the Sweet Lassi, one of three yogurt-based drinks on the menu (the others were salty and mango-flavored).

Overall, the food was well-seasoned but mild, with a few dishes standing out and others that didn’t seem quite right.

The chicken was well-cooked and as good as any my dining companion had tried at any Indian buffet, he said.

I liked all of the saucy currylike dishes — Naratan Khoorma, bright green with mixed vegetables, nuts and cream sauce; Palak Paneer, bright yellow with housemade cheese cubes; Dal Curry, also yellow, with lentils; and Mutter Paneer, a mix of vegetables in a bright-red curry. Though all were soupy, the ingredients gave each a slightly different texture, and I enjoyed the array of Indian spices on display, including turmeric, saffron and cumin. The Dal Curry even offered a hint of spice, though none of the dishes was hot enough to my liking, a necessity on a buffet that needs to please everyone.

Three chutneys — spicy mint, pickled onion and sweet tamarind — allow diners to adjust the flavors of their chosen foods.

Less pleasing was the Vegetable Biryani, a yellow rice dish that’s traditionally flavored with saffron and a smattering of cut veggies. The color was there, but the flavor was bland, leaving me to wonder if the cook had substituted in a less-costly spice in place of saffron. One of my dining companions also bit into an unexpected sour and spicy tidbit in her Biryani that we weren’t able to identify, which was disconcerting.

On the sweet end of the spectrum, I enjoyed my lassi, made with a sour, traditional yogurt sweetened and whipped into a milkshake or smoothielike consistency. It would have especially helped to dull the heat of any spicy foods, had I encountered them.

The Kheer, a rice pudding, was sweet and milky, a nice finish to any meal. I also liked the mild, sweet coconut ice cream, though one of my dining companions said it paled in comparison to the strong flavor of the mango ice cream.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: The buffet is great if you want a grand tour of Indian cuisine. Those with smaller appetites, or who want the kick of truly spicy Indian food, should consider ordering their appetizers and entrees directly from the menu.

In addition to many of the dishes that are on the buffet, the appetizer list includes a number of Pakoras, deep-fried dumplings that contain fillings such as eggplant, onion and cauliflower. One even included boiled eggs.

There are quite a few lamb, chicken and seafood entrees that don’t make the buffet, including a number of marinated Tandoori offerings and flavored curries. Aloo Gobi, a cauliflower and potato curry that I’ve loved at other restaurants, is not on the buffet but can be ordered off the menu.

Other observations: If you’re here for the buffet, serve yourself once you’re seated and head directly to the register when you’re ready to pay.

Cost: The all-you-can-eat buffet is $8.95 for lunch and $11.95 for dinner, not including beverages. A la carte appetizers and side dishes range from $1.50 for basic Naan, a fluffy pitalike bread, to $5.95 for Fish Pakoras, fresh marinated halibut deep fried in a chickpea batter. Meat and seafood entrees are $9.95 to $16.95, and vegetarian entrees are a few dollars less.

Hours: Open daily for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Telephone: 360-891-5857.

Where: 6300 N.E. 117th Ave., Suite A, Vancouver.

Health score: Namaste Indian Cuisine was inspected on March 28 and received a score of 5. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.