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Gautama’s Tipu Chowdhury serves a tandoori platter on the patio.
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The buffet beckons.
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Customers head to the buffet at Gautama.
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Sisir K. Panda (left) preps chicken bolcha at Gautama. Chicken bolcha comes à la carte.
GAUTAMA (1416 Gerrard East, at Hiawatha, 416-469-4444, thesiddhartha.com) Licensed.
SIDDHARTHA PURE VEGETARIAN (1471 Gerrard East, at Rhodes, 416-463-9777) Unlicensed. Complete dinners at both for $25 per person (lunches $20), including tax, tip and a lime soda. Average main $10. Both open daily for $10.99 lunch buffet 11:30 am to 3:30 pm, $13.99 dinner buffet 4 to 10:30 pm. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement (Gautama); two steps at door, washrooms in basement (Siddhartha). Rating: NNN
When it comes to all-you-can-eat buffets, they're either loved or loathed by foodies. Luckily, Tipu Chowdhury's Gautama in Little India falls into the former camp.
You might remember Chowdhury from Siddhartha on Gerrard near Coxwell - widely regarded as the best buffet on the strip - and its short-lived spinoff on King West. He also launched an all-veggie version called Kissan on Gerrard that became Siddhartha Pure Vegetarian when a company with a similar name threatened to sue.
Both closed in 2009 following landlord disputes, and the original was shuttered just over a year ago in the wake of a serious kitchen fire. The newish Gautama and the three-week-old Siddhartha Pure Vegetarian have risen phoenix-like from the ashes.
Once inside, the sister restos look much the same, their matching tables topped with starched white linen and gleaming wine goblets. The stuff-yerself-silly spreads are also very similar, though of course one of them doesn't include butter chicken.
You'll find fluorescent-green saag paneer swirled with yogurt, and biryani-style rice strewn with garden peas and curry leaves. Stir-fried cabbage sings with turmeric and mustard seeds, while a mashup of eggplant and potato gets a considerable kick from hot green chilies. There's even a very good aloo gobi and a fairly comprehensive salad bar. Don't miss the rice pudding and syrupy gulab jamun.
Because they disappear fast, Gautama's tandoori chicken legs and thighs, if you find them, are always unusually moist for a steam table. I've never been a fan of butter chicken, thinking of it as dry chicken breast in too much sugary tomato sauce, but everyone else appears to be wolfing it down. Super-crisp naans straight from the tandoor make even missteps palatable.
Down the block at Pure Vegetarian, paneer in the identical overly saccharine sauce stands in for butter chicken, the only other veggie variable the sweet 'n' sour Manchurian-style meatless kofta meatballs. Service is also a little friendlier at the newer joint, throwing in a free pair of fried idlis with spicy Sri Lankan sambar as a thank-you at the end of our meal.
They also both offer takeout and delivery from their respective à la carte menus. Pass on not so bangin' eggplant baingan bartha ($8.99) and not particularly special Special Korma ($9.99) and opt for the tasty tandoori platters instead. Gautama's ($17.99) sees more of that elusive tandoori bird paired with delish char-broiled lamb and creamy malai chicken kebabs, while Pure Vegetarian's ($14.99) rocks with tandoor-fired tofu and cauliflower.
Not only that, but Gautama's the only licensed patio in all of Little India. Take that, Lahore Tikka!