In theory, there’s no reason a buffet shouldn’t be a premium dining destination, right? Give it an unlimited budget — charge customers a little extra — and you could ensure a huge selection of fresh, continually replenished foods in a fancy-looking dining room with elegant trimmings. You could also hire a suitably huge staff to make sure everything ran smoothly.
India 101, a new buffet in the far northern reaches of Irving, is putting that theory to the test. It occupies a series of spacious dining rooms in a brand-new strip mall at the corner of 635 and Belt Line Road. Between the main seating area and the ballroom-style areas with huge circular tables for big parties, the restaurant seats more than 300 customers. Reservations are welcome. The India 101 website brags that, at 18,700 square feet, it’s the largest Indian restaurant in North America. A claim like that is mighty difficult to confirm, but the only larger example I could find on Google, New York’s notoriously boozy Pranna, closed down when angry neighbors yanked its liquor license.
Whether India 101 is the biggest or not, it’s a stylish place with a blown-glass chandelier in the two-story entry and, over the main dining area, a grid of dozens of reflective copper-colored globe lamps. There might have been 101 of the lamps, but I can’t count that high when I’m hungry.
The buffet line — and it truly is a line, cafeteria-style — unfolds right alongside a long, skinny open kitchen. Customers waiting patiently can watch the deep fryer bubble away near the pappadum station. Tandoori chicken sits under its heat lamp right in front of the tandoor itself, with more skewers of chicken poking out of the top. You can even see naan in its oven, before it loses some of its appeal stacked up in buffet tray piles.
Whether or not the array of foods on offer tally up to 101, the spread is impressive. My first plate contained a kidney bean and red onion salad; veggie fried rice with lots of diced green beans; a small, not-very-crispy vegetable uttapam; vada (Indian fried doughnut); aloo gobi, the curried cauliflower classic; spicy ginger-marinated chicken; the beloved snack called chicken 65; a slow-simmered goat curry; two potato croquettes falsely labeled as samosas; and fried vegetable fritters soaked in a “Manchurian” sweet-sour-soy sauce.
When I went back for seconds, I returned with two varieties of grilled chicken — malai and tandoori — along with a veggie samosa, onion pakoras, chicken tikka masala, a piece of naan and a bowl of dal. There was certainly still much more left to try, including a build-your-own pani puri station with a sign listing instructions for customers who haven’t tried pani puri before. But 19 different foods isn’t too bad.
And most of them were pretty solid. Among my favorites: fragrant goat curry with meat tender enough that I could peel it off the bones with my fingers; both kinds of oven-fired chicken; the excellent stewed dal. The pakoras had disintegrated into tiny shards, but they came out tasting like onion rings. The potato croquettes, with crisp exteriors and gentle pervasive spice, were far better than the samosas whose place they had usurped.
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In the negative column was chicken 65, which on the buffet line saw its sauce turn to mush, and the tikka masala, where the inside of each cube of chicken had clearly dried out. There is better naan in town, too.
India 101 opened just before Christmas 2017, and large crowds of diners from the surrounding office parks have already found it at lunchtime. There’s certainly enough in the huge variety of foods here to merit return visits, and when I go back I’ll be specifically targeting the dal, aloo gobi and puri station.
For many customers, the deciding factor will be the price. On weekdays at lunch, the buffet is $15; dinnertime Monday through Thursday, it’s $17; and from Friday night through the weekend it’s $19. This is definitely a new frontier in buffet pricing. But if India 101 can keep quality high and keep the dining rooms looking a notch glitzier than the competition, that will be a price worth paying.
India 101, 3311 Regent Blvd., Irving. 972-636-4101, india101.us. Open for lunch Monday through Friday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and Saturday through Sunday 12-3 p.m.; open for dinner Monday through Thursday 5:30-9:30 p.m. and Friday through Sunday 6-10 p.m.