When the Indian kids studying at Caltech are hungry for a taste of home, they head to Mezbaan Indian Cuisine in Old Pasadena. It’s hardly the closest Indian restaurant to campus, but the quality makes up for the longer trek, according to our friend Raga, a computer science grad student from Madras.
Raga introduced The Astronomer and me to his favorite spot a few Sundays ago. We came for the all-you-can-eat buffet, which is priced at $10.95 and includes champagne. The fun starts at noon and runs until 3 PM. Mezbaan also has a weekday buffet for $8.99 from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM. For grad students living on a stipend, these buffets offer a lot of bang for very little buck. Ordering a la carte will come once PhDs are in hand. Or maybe not…
While we were filling up our plates at the steam tables, our really nice and attentive waiter dropped off a basket of warm and pliable naan. This was the first of two baskets we plowed through during our meal.
On our visit, Mezbaan offered three different condiments—mint chutney, tamarind chutney, and raita, a cooling yogurt sauce. Raga had a soft spot for the minty one, while I favored the sticky sweet tamarind one.
The number of dishes available at the buffet was perfectly adequate, though not extensive by any means. There were five different curries/stews: three vegetarian ones and two that contained meat. The Astronomer and I dabbled in a little bit of everything, while our vegetarian companion stuck to the meatless offerings.
My first plate contained a wedge of roasted sweet potato, a vegetable samosa, tandoori chicken, spinach (saag), goat curry, and basmati rice with peas (pea pilau). There was not a single loser on the plate. Every dish was fragrant with spices and tasted very fresh. I was particularly fond of the goat curry’s tender meat and complex gravy.
My second plate contained more of the goat curry and saag, along with some eggplant curry and vegetable korma. Even though I was filling up fast, everything still tasted tops. Though I tried my best not to overeat, it was nearly impossible since the food was so good and more was just a few steps away… Oh, buffets!
The only stone I left unturned on the steam tables was the pinto bean curry, which sounded uninteresting to me. However, Raga ate it and said it was great.
For dessert, we all enjoyed bowls of chilled rice pudding. The milky mush with cinnamon accents soothed our maxed-out stomachs.
And just for kicks, we ordered a second dessert off the menu because I had a serious craving for gulab jamun ($6). Made of flour and milk solids, the deep-fried balls were served warm in a sweet syrup flavored with cardamom and rosewater. It was a most delightful conclusion to our all-you-can-eat brunch.
When executed with care, Indian buffets can be a real treat.
Mezbaan Indian Cuisine
80 North Fair Oaks Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91103-3610