representative dish: Navratan korma
Address: 6150 Rivers Ave., North Charleston
Bar: Beer and wine
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Sunday; 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
Costs: Appetizers, $3.59-$8.99; entrees, $10.95-$14.95; lunch buffet, $8.99
Vegetarian Options: Yes
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
There are a multitude of ways a restaurant can end up on this page. But the gimmes on the review schedule always are the new restaurants.
“New” is typically an uncontroversial concept: If the restaurant wasn’t around last year, it qualifies. And yet my understanding of newness failed me when I visited North Charleston’s Bollywood Cafe, which is a kind of second coming of the nearby Bombay Restaurant, except that Bombay never completely went away.
As a server at Bollywood explained it to me, the original Bombay crew this summer had a tussle with its landlord at 6216 Rivers Ave., so its members decamped to a former Wendy’s 400 feet to the south and opened Bollywood. The vacated Bombay was then occupied by another group, armed with a similar menu and no intention of changing the restaurant’s name.
So which restaurant is actually new? Who knows? If the Bombay bounce was an opera plot, you’d keep checking your program.
What’s worth knowing is that Bollywood has all the best attributes of a new restaurant: Its kitchen is cooking with vigor and panache, and its staff is as sunny as the saffron curtains that lend an Indian touch to an otherwise generic-looking dining room. Yet Bollywood also benefits from experience gained down the street: Classic dishes are executed with resounding confidence, and servers aren’t frazzled by the midday buffet crush.
Bollywood’s lunch buffet draws an impressively diverse group of eaters. The restaurant serves halal meat, and is extraordinarily accommodating of various dietary restrictions: On one of my visits, an eater pulled up in a Subaru with an “I am all vegan” sticker in its rear window.
Like all buffets, the lunch spread at Bollywood can’t compare to cooked-to-order food. The dishes are a shade too cool, and the tidbits of chicken bobbing about in a creamy tikka masala are dry. But there’s promise in the handsome russet-hued sauces; the tiered aromas of cumin, chiles and ginger arising from the chorus line of curries and vindaloos; the relatively daring inclusion of dishes such as simmered collards and okra; and the warm, dark-edged naan that’s served by the basket.
Curious how Bollywood compared to the restaurant that had taken up residence in its previous location, I wandered over to Bombay and found a considerably drearier scene. While Bollywood manages to wring genuine cheer from artificial flowers, the focal point of Bombay’s decor is a television tuned to cable news.
Bombay’s buffet lineup is similar to the roster at Bollywood, minus the more interesting flights of fancy, and likely looks more appealing to Western eyes: Instead of a swirl of sauces, the steam table’s set with lightly dressed bits of chicken, rice and fried vegetables. But recognizable isn’t synonymous with delicious. On my single comparison shop visit, the tandoori chicken was greasy; the limp naan was slick with butter and the navratan, or nine-vegetable, korma tasted weirdly like ketchup.
There weren’t any shortcuts in evidence at Bollywood when I went back for dinner, for which the restaurant serves up an extensive menu of salads, soups, saags, biryanis and tandooris. Indeed, my only real quibble was the 30 minutes it took for appetizers to arrive. The dishes, though, were largely worth the wait.
Here, the navratan korma was liberally cloaked with a silken curry, smoothing over the jagged snippets of cauliflower and wedges of potato. A peanutty malai kofta, essentially a vegetarian version of sauced meatballs, was terrifically rich, but without the heft that can leave eaters feeling awful.
Even Bollywood’s hottest dishes, including a vindaloo starring an unfortunately fatty goat, aren’t especially spicy. Yet the kitchen weaves seasonings together so ably that eaters may appreciate the lack of an obscuring heat screen. I especially liked a simple aloo mutter, featuring potatoes and peas in a finely tuned tomato gravy humming with coriander, and a rugged palak paneer made with fresh spinach.
Bollywood isn’t groundbreaking. But that’s as irrelevant as its newness. It’s a restaurant serving better-than-decent Indian-American dishes in a surprisingly pleasant setting, a formula which never gets old.
Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560.