What: Charlotte’s BEST Indian Restaurant
Where: 5909 South Boulevard, Charlotte, NC
Online?: Yes, here.
Lunch: 11 – 2:30 (M-F), 12-3pm (S-S)
Dinner: 5:30pm to 9:30pm (10pm F-S)
How Much: $10.95 per person for the buffet
One of my first priorities when I first moved to Charlotte was finding a good Indian restaurant. When it comes to epicurean delights, few things can beat a kick-ass curry. So I went to several websites like Creative Loafing, Citysearch and Digital City to see the score on local places. Several places were recommended, but for some reason, Jaipur stuck in my mind. And so the missus and I went there the first time to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (of all things). A year later, we went there to celebrate my birthday. And just a couple of days ago… Valentine’s Day. Why we pick an Indian place to celebrate B-list holidays is beyond me, but you’ll sure know where to find us on Arbor Day or Columbus Day!
Jaipur offers a full menu, one which is full of both Northern and Southern Indian delights. But I’ve never ordered off of the menu. They have a kick-ass buffet, and this is what this review is about. The buffet starts with an appetizer bar, chock full of “Indian spring rolls” as well as more traditional Indian starters like vegetable pakoras. YUM! Then there’s the salad bar, which I (like any other God-fearing male) ignore. The salad bar seems a bit thin, but then again I’m not sure if Indian salads are supposed to be huge affairs like American ones. Not everyone in the world puts two pounds of lettuce, cheese, bacon, onions and carrots into a bowl and calls it a salad, so I’ll defer to the natives on this one.
So it’s on to the “real deal”: the main courses. You start with the ubiquitous basmati rice. Jaipur’s rice is light and fragrant, the smell of jasmine slowing wafting up to fill your nostrils. Basmati rice – especially good basmati – puts the plain, clumpy white rice you get from a Chinese place to shame. Next to the basmati you have one of Lisa Wilson’s all-time favorite things: naan. Naan is an Indian flat bread that tastes something like hot pita bread… but not quite. It’s lighter on the inside – almost soft like a beignet – yet just a little crunchy on the outside. I’ve seen my girl eat three or four slices with dinner. When it comes to Lisa, I think that the naan is the dinner. I can’t blame her – it’s awfully addictive. Although only plain naan is offered on the buffet, Jaipur offers garlic naan, keema naan (naan stuffed with spicy ground lamb), palace naan (naan stuffed with chipped chicken tikka) and Khandahari naan (naan stuffed with homemade cheese, nuts and raisins). One of these days, we’re gonna try another kind of naan… if we can just stop eating the regular kind!
Like most Indian places, Jaipur offers a wide variety of vegetarian and meat dishes. I’ll start with the meat dishes, since that’s what I usually eat. Jaipur’s buffet always has four meat items. Tandoori chicken – a sort of Indian barbequed chicken, cooked in a tandoor (a charcoal-fired clay oven) – is always offered while the three remaining dishes rotate. On this most recent visit, Jaipur offered curried chicken, chicken tikka masala and curried goat with potatoes (and when the tray of curried goat was gone, it was replaced with a lamb curry).
Oh.. my… God! I simply cannot begin to describe the yummy goodness that *are* the meat dishes. The chicken curry was of the Madras curry type – a dark yellowish-brown that’s not too spicy, but has a complex taste simply cannot be described. I’d never eaten curried goat before, but it was simply delicious. It was not nearly as greasy as I would have thought, perhaps helped by the generous amount of potatoes in the curry sauce.
But the main thing I love is the chicken tikka masala. Tikka masala is known world-wide for it’s almost angelically good taste… it’s even been called the official national dish of curry-crazed England. And Jaipur does chicken tikka masala better than anyone else in Charlotte. The chicken – always off-the-bone white meat – comes in various sizes, from bite-sized to “need a knife” size. Regardless of this, the chicken is always fully cooked, but is never dry. And the masala sauce… Like all tikka masala, it’s a tomato-based sauce cooked in a tandoor with a hefty dose of FD&C Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine) to give the masala its traditional, luminescent orange glow. Tikka masala is truly a multi-cultural dish; legend has it that during “The Raj” (the time when England ruled India) an Englishman demanded a gravy for his Tandoori chicken. The bewildered Indian chef opened a can of Campbell’s tomato soup and added a handful of native spices… and a legend was born. And Jaipur’s tikka masala is the best I’ve had outside of London. So that tells you how good it is!
But it’s not all about the dead animals. As I alluded to earlier, India’s millions of vegetarian Hindus means that most Indian places have wide variety of vegetarian dishes for the rabbits amongst us. They have a swingin’ daal makhani (black lentils with herbs and spices) that I could eat pound after pound of. The buffet line has a nice saag paneer (cubes of homemade cheese cooked in spinach puree with spices), although Lisa says it’s a bit too salty. Perhaps it’s the homemade cheese? I dunno. It tastes pretty good to me, although I don’t like spinach very much, so I don’t get more than a bite or two off the buffet line. Lastly, Japiur offered a vegetable masala… which was so delicious that Lisa ordered me to learn how to cook it at home so we can have it in the future. It’s good stuff – peas, potatoes, onions, carrots and more – in a lovely yellow sauce. If Indians made chicken pot pies, I expect that the filing would taste a lot like this. It’s that good, people!
Jaipur offers desserts, but I’ve never left room for them before. Indeed, I’m usually SO FULL by dessert time that I need to be wheeled out to my car on a hand truck, Hannibal Lector-style. According to the menu, they offer gulab jamun (fried dough balls in rose and honey syrup), rasmalai (flat cakes of steamed cottage cheese soaked in sweet, reduced milk) and kheer (rice pudding cooked with rose water, saffron and dried fruits and nuts). Perhaps you might like these dishes, but my taste buds get really prejudiced when it comes to dessert. I just don’t think that other cultures “do” dessert as well as Europeans and Americans do. My taste buds love pretty much any food from any culture, but Asian desserts just don’t cut it. And whatever you do, stay the HELL away from Jaipur’s traditional bowl of seeds at the door. They’re supposed freshen your breath – the Indian equivalent of a breath mint – but it’s just dag nasty! Lord knows, I’ve tried the seeds at every Indian place I’ve been too, but heaven help me if I don’t choke and spit them all out when I do.
One last thing I’ll say about Jaipur… they keep their beer cold. They offer the usual round-up of American beers, along with some Indian brands. I always get the 22oz. Kingfisher – at $6.60, it’s cheaper than buying two regular size beers, plus the very tippy-top of the beer is filled with ice crystals. It’s soooo good and soooo cold – the prefect compliment to the spicy hot food.
Jaipur accepts Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover.
MY RATING: A