Indian With Issues

Tasty dinner entrées can't redeem Bombay Grill's lunch, service problems

Every so often, I find myself walking out of a restaurant, shaking my head, wondering what in the hell the restaurant's management is thinking.

I found myself doing this after my recent visits to the Bombay Grill. The restaurant has some tasty food (at least for dinner) and a decent location (Grant Road and Tucson Boulevard), but everything else about it is a debacle. And the restaurant's management has to know: During my two visits, Bombay Grill was as dead as a doornail.

Garrett and I visited Bombay Grill on a recent Saturday afternoon. We were looking forward to the all-you-can-eat buffet--the restaurant's only lunch option. To say we were disappointed would be an understatement.

When we arrived, only one table was occupied (by one person), leaving 11 tables to choose from. The décor is fairly spartan; three framed prints hang on the crème- and plum-colored walls. The two rows of tables along the walls had yellow tablecloths, covered with glass; the middle row had aqua-green tablecloths. No music was playing during most of our meal, meaning Grant Road traffic provided the soundtrack.

After being delivered water and ordering some poori (deep-fried wheat bread, $2) from the older woman who was the de facto server, we headed for the buffet--if you could call it that. I don't mind a spartan décor, but I do mind a spartan buffet. The selections included four entrée options, a soup, salad, rice and a dessert. That was all.

The food left something to be desired. The salad consisted of lettuce that was browning around the edges, and little else. (And what the hell is up with being offered only ranch dressing?) The soup, a lentil concoction, was watery and nearly flavorless.

The entrées weren't great by any stretch. I enjoyed the chicken curry with vegetables (including carrots, broccoli and cauliflower), though Garrett noted the chicken pieces were dry. The cabbage with mustard seeds was unexciting. Another option mixed whole hard-boiled eggs with onions and stewed tomatoes; this dish didn't work, as the flavors didn't blend at all. The highlights were the sweet potato dish with vegetables (including lentils, onions, beans) and spices; and the dessert, an orange-colored, congealed cream of wheat with gold raisins mixed in. The poori was OK, although it had little taste beyond oil.

They didn't have the buffet price posted anywhere, and I was a bit surprised when I found out it was $6.95 per person. I won't name names ... but there's a restaurant that's a mere 3.28 miles away (so says Mapquest) that has a better-tasting buffet with more options, superior service and a nicer décor that costs $2 less.

We returned for dinner four days later with friend John Banks. The most annoying thing about our dinner was the service--or, I should say, the lack of service. The same old woman who acted as server during our lunch was the only server during dinner. Seeing as, again, only one other table was occupied when we walked in, there were not a lot of customers. Ordering was a challenge, as she seemingly couldn't understand us, even when we pointed to the menu. We got one round of water, and never were even offered a second. Most of our appetizer plates were never cleared, and when we walked in, I saw at least two tables in the restaurant in need of cleaning that were in exactly the same state when we left. All she did, other than taking our orders and delivering the food when it was ready, was sit at the table closest to the cash register and stare off into space. Oh, occasionally, she coughed.

Things like, say, the lack of water, make it harder for one to enjoy good food; however, the dinner options were pretty impressive. We ordered two plates of samosas ($2.50 each, two per plate) and the onion pakora ($3) for appetizers; I also got the sambar soup (vegetables with lentils and coconut, $1.50). For entrées, Garrett picked the lamb tikka masala (marinated in spices and cooked in a tandoori oven, $10.45), while John got the lamb biriyani (with basmati rice and spices, $9.50). I got the Bombay Grill special, the chicken 65 (marinated chicken fried with ginger, garlic and spices, $9.50). We also requested an order of garlic naan ($3).

There was not a miss in the bunch. The veggie-filled samosas were a little greasy, but they were bigger than normal samosas and had a nice flavor. The pakora--onion pieces deep-fried with flour, garlic, cumin and ginger--were a hit, especially with John, although I can't say the accompanying mint chutney did much for any of us. My sambar soup was great--the potatoes, zucchini and onions were complemented nicely by a spicy punch.

The main courses were all hits, too. Garrett's lamb tikka masala was the weakest; the brown-colored mixture had a nice, sweet flavor, but the lamb was a bit tougher than one would expect. Garrett also noted the portion was surprisingly small. John's biriyani was fantastic; the lamb and rice mix (with onion, bay leaves and lemon), surrounded by tomatoes, looked and tasted great. The lamb differed greatly from the larger chunks in Garrett's dish in that they were stunningly tender. Finally, my chicken 65 won raves from all three of us. The chicken chunks were bright red from the spices, and they had a hot, yet slightly sweet flavor. The chunks themselves were perfectly cooked--crispy on the outside, soft and juicy on the inside. It was fantastic, especially when I dipped it in a little of the raita (yogurt sauce) that came with John's meal. The garlic naan was OK--it had the consistency of fluffy pizza dough--but we didn't get to enjoy it as much as we would have liked, seeing as John and I were well into our meals by the time it arrived. (Garrett waited for it.)

The evening was topped off by a Keystone Cops-like series of exchanges when Garrett dared to order dessert. The old woman was ready to check us out without even asking if we wanted dessert; when Garrett verbalized his intentions, she seemed annoyed, and said she'd have to ask the man in back. Apparently, he said we could have dessert. When Garrett said he wanted the kheer (rice pudding, $2), she had to go ask, again, if that was OK. Finally, we got the kheer; it was sweet (with golden raisins) and delicious, although we were surprised that it was warm, as it's often served cold.

We paid the bill and left, shaking our heads, wondering what they were thinking. Dining at Bombay Grill proved to be more of a hassle than eating out should be.