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Cheap Eats ; Fill up on a Taste of India with buffet lunch

Buffets will always fill you up. The all-you-can-eat lunch at Taste of India is one of the rare examples that delivers fulfillment as well.

Walk into this Northtown Plaza storefront at lunchtime and it's obvious the secret is out. Tables are crowded with eaters taking advantage of the $8.95 buffet. A full house might be bad news in another dining room, but here it means there's steady turnover of dishes on the steam tables. The fried vegetable pakora, replenished frequently, were plenty crispy, containing slices of Japanese eggplant and onion.

Taste of India's spread includes an abundance of choices for meat eaters and vegetarians alike, with all the side dishes that make an Indian meal.

There were five vegetable dishes and three meat dishes the last time I visited. Besides the pakora, vegetarian choices included mixed vegetable curry, zucchini and potato, saag paneer (spinach and cheese) and vegetable kofta, or dumplings.

The kofta was soft and subtly flavored. The other vegetable curries offered more chunks of well-cooked vegetables in sauce. Saag paneer was not overly creamy and left me looking for more cheese. Another platter held a green lettuce salad, offered with celery sticks, carrot sticks and blue cheese dressing.

Beef curry was firm chunks of meat in a dark, tangy gravy. Chicken makhani was stiff chunks of chicken breast in a light tomato cream. But the finest meat dish here was the tandoori chicken, pieces of bird marinated in yogurt and spices before being roasted in a superheated clay oven.

Here, the chicken boasted crispy skin with a wisp of smoky flavor around tender meat. The platter was cleared every few minutes by diners, but replacements, redolent with spices, appeared quickly.

Besides a better-than-average set of entrees, the buffet features a full set of accompaniments. There's rice, of course, and wedges of freshly made naan bread with flaky charred spots. There's sauces for pakora dipping, including mint chutney and sweet tamarind.

A bowl of raita, or flavored yogurt, is alongside super-sour and spicy vegetable pickle with carrots, cauliflower, chilies and loads of spices. The vegetable pickle was the only dish that was spicy enough to make me reach for my water.

There's even two desserts on offer. Kheer, rice pudding, is comforting and not too sweet. It's a fine closer, with a small cup of the milky sweetened tea. For pure sugary indulgence, there's galub jamun, which are essentially Timbits-sized balls of rich dough fried and soaked in syrup.

Getting a chance to enjoy more than a dozen dishes at once might be enough. If you want to enjoy a lassi, the classic mango-yogurt shake, it's $3.50. You've gotten more than enough value already, so go ahead and splurge.

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com

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TASTE OF INDIA

4 pennies (out of 4)

"Tandoori chicken satisfies"

WHERE: 3093 Sheridan Drive, Amherst 837-0460, www.tasteofindia.com

HOURS: Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch; 4:30 to 10 p.m. for dinner.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

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