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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Desilicious Dhaba

Noelle Chorney
Published Thursday October 2, 04:38 pm
Just try to resist the buffet at Saskatoon’s newest Indian spot

DESI DHABA
325 Ave. C S.
306-649-8888

For me, an uncomfortable side effect of eating Indian food is coming face to face with my own lack of self-control. And when it’s really awesome Indian food, it just makes everything worse (or better, depending how you look at it).

Desi Dhaba, you bring me face to face with my own gluttonous tendencies.

I’m not generally a fan of buffets, because they usually encourage people to go for quantity rather than quality. My one exception to the rule is Indian food, because the dishes usually hold up well in a chafing dish, and you get to try more flavours than you would if you ordered à la carte.

Desi Dhaba, Saskatoon’s newest Indian restaurant, rocks the buffet. I’ve only been there for lunch so far, but there’s a reasonable selection of vegetarian and meat options (like, three of each), and the chef gets creative with the sauces in a way I haven’t yet experienced in Saskatoon.

Dim sum aficionados will remember the Desi Dhaba’s Ave. C location as the Saskatoon Garden way back when; in the last few years it’s had a revolving door of owners before being converted to Desi Dhaba (by a family that previously established a popular restaurant in Dundurn).

On every visit to Desi Dhaba so far, I’ve considered ordering from the menu — until I see the buffet. I think it’s the pappadams (crispy lentil crackers which you dip in the chutney of your choice, India’s much-superior answer to chips and dip) that convince me every time. There are so many dipping sauces to choose from, such as mint chutney, mango chutney, tamarind chutney — often studded with chickpeas or corn to give it more body — and spicy Indian pickle.

And since every buffet meal includes your choice of drink (including lassis or chai tea, $17 for lunch and $20 for dinner) and all the flatbread you can eat (choose from roti or plain, butter, onion or garlic naan), why wouldn’t you order it?

I’ve tried some interesting dishes at Desi Dhaba, like chana saag (chickpea curry with spinach). I’ve had chana masala and other chickpea dishes before, and I’ve had saag paneer (fresh cheese with spinach) and saag lamb, but never spinach with chickpeas. Desi Dhaba is also my first experience with the sauce usually associated with butter chicken being used with paneer.

It’s a simple concept to take the classic dishes and mix and match the sauces, and I’m sure in India and Pakistan this variation on a theme is commonplace. But in my experience with Indian cuisine in North America, I haven’t had the pleasure. It’s keeping me coming back for more.

I’m not the only one who can’t resist the buffet — a friend of mine swore up and down that she couldn’t have the lunch buffet, because she hurt herself by eating too much at the dinner buffet the week before. But when we sat down to eat, she gave in and went for it after all.

So in order to test the à la carte menu, I had to order takeout. This involved a bit of risk because my kids, while generally pretty adventurous with food, still have some issues with spice. And it seems that even mild Indian dishes are too spicy for them.

So instead of subjecting the people working in the restaurant to my kids rejecting their food for being too spicy, I figured it’d be safer to try the food in the comfort of our own home (with the added benefit of curbing my compulsion to go for the buffet). I ordered a variety of dishes, including chicken samosas, fish pakora, an egg omelet, Desi daal (the house sauce on red lentils), Shahi paneer (the one very similar to the butter chicken sauce), Desi rice, and lamb korma (cashew nut curry). Our meal came to around $80 — a bit more than we would have paid for two adults and two kids to have the buffet.

I did everything I could to prepare my kids for the heat: I made them lassis so they had something cool and milky to drink, and I stocked them up with naan to take away the burn. And they were really good sports. My six-year-old tried everything, and proclaimed the omelet to not be spicy at all, the fish to be spicy (but only after he ate several pieces), and the samosa to be really good. My four-year-old had less, but he still tried a bit of everything before declaring it all too spicy.

That’s a vast improvement over our last family experience of trying Indian food. (My then one-year-old son kept putting stuff in his mouth and then screaming when it started to burn. All he ate in the end was naan bread.) From where I stand now, I can envision a time when we can all sit down and enjoy dinner at an Indian restaurant.

My husband and I (apart from the effort it took to find something our kids could handle eating) were in heaven. We couldn’t decide which dish we liked best: he was delighted with the daal, while I reveled in the depth of flavour in the korma. I could taste garam masala — particularly cinnamon — and cardamom in the nutty, silky sauce.

It was even better the next day, when the flavours had time to mellow and meld. That was the best lunch of leftovers I’ve had in a long time.

So if you’re looking for a big burst of flavour, be prepared to check your self-control at the door and come on down to Desi Dhaba. I’ll be finding many more reasons to make my way there, for both lunch and dinner. And I’ll just accept that if I’m sitting down in the restaurant, I’m going to go for the buffet. 

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