BANJARA INDIAN CUISINE (750 Yonge, at Charles, 416-646-0928) Complete lunches for $15, including all taxes, tip and a mango lassi. Average main $8.50. Lunch buffet 11:45 am to 3:30 pm, à la carte dinner 5 to 11 pm daily. Partial licence. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NN Rating: NN
After a long and boring cash-strapped year, I've become so unattractively mean with my money that I use this assignment to treat a hungry birthday boy to lunch. Too bad a limited liquor licence means no celebratory cocktails curbside, and he soon starts twitching.
"You get the food. I'll pop across to the Brass Rail for a quickie. By the way, do you really think it's appropriate to suggest a place directly across from a peeler joint for a Pride review?
"I see you put a lot of thought into this. Thanks. This is the best birthday ever."
For $8.99 per person, I load two plates with an assortment of hot items: basmati rice sprinkled with lentils, onion bhajia drizzled with a lovely mint chutney, naan, butter chicken, bhendi masala (a mix of okra and onion in a tomato sauce), moist tandoori chicken, shredded beets, potatoes in a coconut curry sauce.
It's all passable but not particularly special. Having missed the Thai section of the buffet, I offer to fetch a second plate, but the birthday boy puts up resistance.
"If you go back in there, I'm leaving. I'll meet you across the street."
Returning on a gloomy day, I sit inside, where pale yellow walls highlighted by stripes of fuchsia, blue and red create a cheerful atmosphere. The Thai-only buffet costs $5.99 and seems a good bargain for eight items, but the pad thai is little more than overly sweet, clumped-together rice stick. Spicy lemon grass chicken has bitter undertones and the fried tofu balls in tomato sauce are soggy and acrid.
Thinking a second vegetarian spring roll would sate, I find the pan empty and have no time to wait for a fresh batch, and new items like eggplant, goat and chana masala have been added to the Indian buffet, making me rue my frugality once more.