I am not generally a fan of buffets—they usually mean dried-out meats, soupy pastas and food served at less-than-ideal temperatures.
There are buffets done right, though, and Curry Leaf—occupying the former Amrutha Indian Cuisine restaurant space near Grant Road and Tucson Boulevard—offers an excellent lunch buffet.
With a sparse interior, Curry Leaf isn't much to look at, and at first, the buffet seems quite small compared to other Indian lunch buffets in town. However, the service is friendly, and ice water and hot naan—either garlic or plain—are delivered immediately. Considering we were at a buffet, the server was very attentive in refilling waters and making sure that we had enough of everything. There are perhaps 10 or 12 different selections at the buffet, which vary by day and even by the hour. Small portions are prepared and then set out to ensure that everything is constantly fresh.
Every dish that I sampled—pretty much every dish on the buffet line—was delicious, without exception. The tandoori chicken was tender and moist; the vegetables in the various curries were crisp; and the saag was still a nice, fresh green color. (At Indian buffets, it often takes on that overcooked greenish-brown tinge.) The chow chow was my favorite, with a mix of tender noodles, rice and savory vegetables. And that garlic naan was soft, buttery and plenty garlicky.
Rice dishes generally fare the worst at buffets: Either the rice clumps together into a sticky glob, or each grain hardens and separates into an unpalatably crispy mess. However, both the plain steamed rice and the vegetable fried rice here were in good shape, although the vegetable fried rice was a touch on the greasy side.
About midway through the meal, the owner came around with a bowl of fresh-out-of-the-fryer pakora, and offered pieces to each diner, since it was piping-hot and fresh.
The only thing I was disappointed about was that there were no samosas at the buffet when I visited—not that I would have had room! At $8.50 per person, this was a very reasonable and quick lunch, with plenty of naan to go around.
Curry Leaf also excels at dinner, which is a table-service affair rather than a buffet. Ted and I visited on a weeknight, and there was a steady stream of other guests, though it wasn't ever what I'd call busy. I ordered a mango lassi ($2.50), and we started with—finally—the samosa appetizer ($2.95). We received two perfectly puffy potato-and-vegetable samosas, fried to a crisp, golden brown. They were hot and flavorful, and the potato-to-vegetable ratio was perfect; if there is too much potato, samosas start to get bland.
Our server was friendly and efficient, and our entrées were on the table quickly. I ordered the lamb madras curry ($12.95 for lamb or shrimp; $8.50 for vegetable; $9.95 for paneer or tofu; $10.95 for chicken), and Ted ordered the shrimp jalfrezi ($13.95 for lamb or shrimp; $10.95 for chicken). We also got one onion-naan order, and one cheese-naan order ($2.50 each for garlic, onion or cheese; $1.95 for plain). Each entrée came with a heaping pile of rice, and both were easily sharable.
The shrimp jalfrezi was our favorite, with a generous portion of large shrimp, which weren't overcooked, as well as still-crisp sautéed onions, bell peppers and tomatoes. You can order each dish to the level of spiciness you desire, and we opted for medium-hot on both dishes, which was perfect: The seasoning was just spicy enough to leave that pleasant mouth burn without detracting from the flavors.
My lamb madras curry was also quite delicious, though the thin slices of lamb could have been cut closer to fork-size. They were very tender and infused with the tomato-and-coconut sauce. The mustard seeds and red chiles didn't contribute obvious flavors, but gave a nice tang and heat to the dish. The sauce was thick enough that it was easily scooped up in a slice of naan with some rice, without making too much of a mess.
Curry Leaf is an affordable and tasty option for a satisfying and hearty meal. Although the lunch buffet has fewer selections than some others, the food is fresh—and the garlic naan is quite addictive.