TRIMURTI (265 Queen West, at Duncan, 416-645-0286) A pair of floor vets and a cook from Annex fave Nataraj open their own spot that duplicates -- and improves on -- much of the Bloor eatery's menu. Complete dinners for $25 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a lassi. Open daily for an $8.95 all-you-can-eat buffet from 11:30 am to 3 pm, and for dinner 5:30 to 10:30 pm. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Two Downtown Indian eateries have recently spun off from a pair of Toronto favourites. Both new kids aim to mimic their predecessors' successes, but only one of them gets it right.Trimurti opened a few weeks back in a neighbourhood that's saturated with Indo bistros -- Babur, Kama, Little India -- but it's already standing out from the competition. Owned by long-time Nataraj server Danny Chin and his partners, Sidney Leong and chef Pradeep Jagtap, who also served time at the Annex institution, this smallish, pretty room is proving popular.
Here's the buzz: Trimurti duplicates the dish that made Nataraj -- Phool Gobi Tandoori ($7.95), a full head of cauliflower that's been marinated in yogurt and fired in the tandoor. The result looks like red electric brains and tastes just as wild. Something new, Chili Paneer ($8.50) sees cubes of soft tofu-like cheese swimming in a red sea of fiery pepper and sweet onion.
But it's the all-you-can-eat lunchtime spreads that really put an Indian joint on the map.
After a week stuffing myself at four of them, I now refer to these buffets as all-the Indian-food-you-could-ever-possibly-want-to-eat. For several months.
The two key players in an Indian buffet are tandoori chicken and naan. Trimurti's medium-sized lunchtime lineup ($8.95) features perfectly moist and pink barbecued chicken that's nicely charred around the edges. Their naan is simply otherworldly. Thin like the lightest cracker, its surface blistered from the tandoor, the bread is delivered straight to table. Unlike at other spots, Trimurti's ethereal flatbread doesn't sit on the steam table, where it literally turns into limp biscuits.
Next to the hot table, find the usual miscellaneous greens. But don't miss a surprisingly tasty mushy potato salad laced with coriander leaf, and a hellishly hot coriander chutney with the kick of head-rush horseradish.
A few days later, I revisit Nataraj (394 Bloor West, at Brunswick, 416-928-2925) and discover their version of the tandoor cauliflower ($7.50) is even better than I remember, its spice quotient near double Trimurti's.
But their $7.95 noontime extravaganza is a mixed bag. With only five main items, some rice and a meagre salad bar, it still attracts a crowd. And because of that, the turnover is quick -- their tandoori chicken is superb fresh from the kitchen, less so a few minutes later.
An innocuous-looking pumpkin curry is the best I have had anywhere, marvelously textured and sweet, like Caribbean Thanksgiving.
Maybe it's just me, but a cockroach climbing the wall behind the steam-table puts me off seconds.
Back among the 'Murkin tourists, Raaga (287 King West, at John, 416-971-7242) is doing its best to ape nearby Dhaba (309 King West, at John, 416-740-6622). With a similar name and the menu a near carbon copy, Raaga appears to be riding on Dhaba's rep. Co-owner and chef Inderlap Singh worked under P.K. at Dhaba, but his attempts at recreating his former employer's work miss the mark.
Raaga Special Aloo ($9.95) pales next to identical-but-different Dhaba's Aloo Kadchi Maar Ke, both described as "potatoes stuffed with raisins, nuts, ginger, paneer-cheese topped with mild tomato-onion." A lotta sauce and 50 cents worth of spuds.
Raaga's efficient buffet ($7.99) set-up is a two-sided affair with little of Nataraj's traffic jam. The chicken's OK, the naan's doughy, but there's a thorough dessert section with fruit, sweets and ice cream. The curries are interchangeable and unmemorable, although the seafood interpretation that tastes like erasers lingers still.
Staff are friendly and attentive, and the second-storey spot that overlooks Metro Hall has already claimed a following at CBC headquarters around the corner. And hands off the dreamy server who looks like a younger, better-looking Benjamin Bratt. He's mine. email@example.com