Restaurant Review - Bombay buffet

Crowning achievements at the Palace

Waiting for pan-fried battered peppers, onions and spices, I realize that I've come a long way from Bisquick pancakes and microwaved bacon. My family's regular breakfast every Sunday was smothered with butter and Aunt Jemima syrup. The reds, greens and spicy smells before me are a world away from those mornings.

"Like an Indian onion pizza," the woman behind the line of griddles explains with a motherly smile, quartering the thin round creation and scooping it onto my plate. At the next station, a young girl places three delicate globes of papery-thin dough filled with spiced potatoes, ladled with a cold chicken broth. I hurry back to my seat, eager to explore the exotic treats I have before me.

As others line up around the city for tired omelets and buttermilk pancakes, a friend and I are pillaging the buffet items at the Palace in Norcross.

The buffet at the Palace is available seven days a week. Weekdays provide soups, salad, four vegetables, two meat dishes and two desserts for $7.50. On the weekend, the spread is even more impressive: five vegetable choices, three meat dishes and desserts for only $9.99.

Upon walking through the door, we saw a family dressed in saris and beautiful brocaded clothing. I gulped — perhaps I was underdressed in my jeans and tennis shoes. Then I spied a table with another Indian family happily enjoying their food in more Americanized garb.

After that initial panic, we set to work, the smells of curry and spices leading us. Tandoori chicken, curried lamb, creamed spinach, curry okra and more sat steaming under heat lamps at the buffet.

I stopped looking for signs announcing entrees; there are none, since most of the patrons are Indian and already know what they're eating. The "onion pizza" (later explained to me as an utpan) was laden with green and red peppers, onions and other spices. I avoided eating the pepper seeds but still chomped on big hearty bitefuls that heated up my mouth. Afterward, I began to pile a plate at the buffet table.

The tandoori chicken was pink and tender, but be careful: all the chicken and lamb is on the bone. Naan arrived hot from the oven at the same time. My favorite chicken dish was the creamy tikka masala, which you can spoon over seasoned or white rice. The dish was great and had me going back for seconds. It's a bit more difficult to handle with bones still in the chicken, but worth the trouble. The saag panner, which is creamy spinach with cheese, was great on top of a wedge of naan.

I tried the curried okra, encouraged by rave reviews from my friend across the table; the spices and mixture of onions worked well together.

A bubbling pile of spiced chickpeas could be found on a separate table along with condiments like mint, coconut sauce and onions. A samosa-type fried item tasted like a dry Southern corn fritter. I moistened it and kicked up the flavor a bit with a lime wedge smuggled from the tandoori chicken.

I returned to the buffet and found the smiling matron cooking up another treat: a thin shell of batter wrapped around a mixture of yellow potatoes and onions called a dosa. The flaky bits of fried shell were light and great alone, snapped off and savored. "It's like an Indian taco," she said to other newbies searching her face for an explanation.

As I continue to return to the buffet for re-loads of spices, the painted tables and festooned dining area begins to fill with extended families of grandparents and small children — youngsters cajoled to eat their vegetables and clean their plates before they can have dessert. I realize that my humble breakfast beginnings might seem exotic to those tykes as they sit with their families with their curries and lamb, continuing their family tradition.??