Blessed and cursed with a generous amount of hype from local bloggers and news makers, Spice Junction garnered a lot of talk about its Indian buffet. Folks clamored over its wide array of unique, tasteful Indian dishes that have dazzled eaters in West Columbia since its grand opening last year. It was obvious that the minute I got back to Columbia, this was the place I had to go.
Turns out, I may have been wrong.
I sat down to eat at Spice Junction last weekend - well, walked in and scurried to the buffet line that is. It's only buffet at Spice Junction, and for the most part you are alone in servicing yourself, with a water machine to the left and buffet in the back waiting. The owners are always active in the back though, ready to guide you if you have any questions and serve you other drinks if you are craving.
The selection was fit and fine. Samosas, the staple butter and chicken curry, a spicy cauliflower dish, some tandoori and the usual saag panir (curried spinach dish). There were the less usual suspects though, including some spicy, curried lentil dishes and a goat biryani. A goat biryani! In my buffet line! That alone should have cried wonderful.
Unfortunately, a lot of their dishes just weren't up to par. The spice level on a lot of the dishes, for one, was slightly strong, maybe even overpowering for someone who has a low tolerance level. The chicken curry was filled to the brim with far too dry chicken. Loaded chicken may be a good thing in a lot of dishes we eat, but I really pine for the thick curry and succulent bites of chicken in between to swab up with my piece of naan (Indian flatbread). That just wasn't there in the curry, and for a lot of the dishes in fact. The butter chicken may have been the only fair one, but its richness in a buffet setting makes it a hard sell for having a lot of it along with anything else. The goat biryani, though, was interesting and definitely worth a taste, but alone not enough to save everything else going on.
There was good though. The samosas were crispy and flavorful. The vegetable samosa had the right balance of crisp, potato, dough and spice that you want in it. And the naan. Good god, the naan. If there were one reason to come back to Spice Junction, it would be just to sit there and eat mountains of their warm, buttery naan. This was really where I was crying for some good dishes to mop with, because it seriously is some of the best naan I have ever come across, and for sure miles ahead of any other naan in town.
So there you have it. Great, really great, naan. Pretty tasty samosas. A bit flat in the world of everything else. I really want that rich curry, some good, dependable saag panir for my naan, and some really comforting, maybe even surprising dishes that bring not only flavor, but the right balance of it that makes good Indian cooking so extraordinary. In those departments, Spice Junction let me down a bit.