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Unlike Jennifer Love Hewitt, Bob hasn't adopted Indian fare as his favorite pig-out food — though he is fond of butter chicken, a comforting staple of Indian-American restaurants. Not only does it sound familiar to Midwestern diners; the rich and creamy butter-and-tomato sauce is not too spicy or exotic.
Richard and Linda are more adventurous eaters, and they would have been just as happy if I'd ordered the chicken vindaloo or the shrimp biryani a few degrees hotter. "But the vindaloo is so good," Richard raved, "it makes my tongue dance."
Gupta offers more goat dishes than many local Indian restaurants, but I was confused to see both goat and lamb dishes described as mutton on his menu. "Isn't mutton always middle-aged lamb?" I asked Santana. He explained that although many local Indian restaurants frequently serve entrées made with lamb, it's not so easily found in India.
"We eat much more goat in India," Gupta told me later. "So we call goat meat mutton, too."
He also boasted that he uses farm-fresh Kansas goat in dishes such as mutton rogan josh, described as "simmered to perfect tenderness" on the menu. "You will love to have it," the menu promised.
And I did love having it. Tender goat and a cardamom-scented sauce made this an aromatic Punjabi stew. We all took turns tasting the goat, except for Bob, who felt that eating goat was just too "Granny Clampett" for his refined tastes.
Bob is never above a good buffet, but that shiny, long table — the dominant decorative fixture in the cream-and-burgundy dining room — stays empty during the dinner hour. Santana assured us, however, that Paradise India's lunch buffet was not to be missed. I returned one Sunday afternoon with Franklin, Addison and Debbie, who said she'd been craving good Indian food. In fact, she said, "I could eat it every day."
"Like Jennifer Love Hewitt!" I told her.
She looked at me blankly. "Who's that?"
We pushed our way into the VIP section of the dining room again — though I still had no idea why part of the long dining room was roped off. "It's for the lower castes," Addison theorized. "And that's why I insist on sitting there."
We took our seats and sipped chai from the do-it-yourself tea counter (Franklin refused to drink out of Styrofoam, so our server brought us four china cups) until we felt energized enough to hit the buffet.
To call it well-stocked would be an understatement. We all turned up our noses at the "salad bar," which included a container of plain mayonnaise boasting a little label describing it as "dressing" — that was a little too Granny Clampett for me. But the real Indian dishes were sensational: piles of yogurt-marinated tandoori chicken; soft chickpea kadhi pakora dumplings in a silky, garlicky yogurt sauce; a luscious mound of shahjahani biryani peppered with pieces of spiced lamb, chicken and shrimp; a discreetly spiced Malabar fish; and lots of freshly baked naan with soothing coconut chutney or a ferociously hot pickle relish made with chopped mango, mustard, chili and fenugreek. Legend has it that this tongue-burning condiment has all kinds of positive health benefits, such as increasing hair growth, curing stomach ulcers and promoting weight loss.
Hey, maybe I do need to eat Indian food more often. Like, maybe three times a week?
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