Many in the ethnic Indian community are regulars at Indian restaurants, of which there are perhaps two dozen in Greater Cincinnati. To listen to such diners, there are a few of these Indian restaurants which stand out, heads above the rest. One of those is Baba India in Oakley—a location that shares its culinary swagger with Ambar India and Kanak India.
So what’s the secret to success at Baba and the others? Jesse Singh, founder of this 3-location chain of Indian restaurants had this to say in a recent interview: “We are celebrating 20 years (a long time in the restaurant biz!), and there is no secret recipe or anything. The secret is quality, and consistency. Nothing frozen here (except spinach). We use all fresh ingredients. Our chicken is fresh, not frozen, and that costs more (about $40 more per crate, he said at the time). But it is better quality, giving you better flavor and a better dish.”
He mentioned other ingredients, too: “The same with our rice, basmati rice; the best quality rice; better than regular. Some Indian restaurants use basmati, but cut it with cheaper Asian rice. When you do that, there is a big difference in food cost, but the quality of the food is not as good. We want the quality and the consistency, and that is why our customers keep coming back: quality and consistency.”
At Baba India, lunchtime is buffet time. The buffet has some added characteristics I do not see in many other Indian restaurants featuring buffets. First, the buffet is longer, and more footage means more dishes from which to choose. The buffet is rotational, also, according to management at the restaurant. For patrons, that means the food selection changes from day to day—with some staples, such as the chicken tikka. And the kicker in my book is that the food trays are filled with fresh, appetizing food specialties.
In visiting restaurants featuring buffets, there is a dividing line between those where pans of entrees are full and inviting, and those with less attention to this critical detail. The fresh, appealing food in the buffet is a big deal for me. How often does a diner go to a restaurant where there is a buffet, and the food is picked over, dried out, or “steamed” out, so that the color and vibrancy of the food is gone. Unappealing food ruins an appetite, to my way of thinking.
The buffet is an excellent way to enjoy Indian food, because of the long list of menu selections. Also, the buffet is especially good for those unfamiliar with Indian food, or who appreciate the option of eating a wider variety of items than a menu order would provide economically.
At Baba India, the menu entrée selections are numerous, and I particularly delight in some of the ones to be enjoyed on the buffet. During a recent dining experience, among the dishes we enjoyed were the chicken tikka and the chicken jalfrezi, found on the menu in the chicken specialty section. The plate includes the reddish-hued chicken that is roasted on a skewer that stands upright in a tandoor oven. Before the chicken is skewered, it is marinated in a special herb and spice based sauce. The flavor of the chicken is special, and the chicken pieces should be moist and tasty. My chicken entrée was delicious, accompanied with sautéed onions, peppers and tomatoes, with lemon wedges to squeeze over the food.
The second dish, the jalfrezi, featured a piquant sauce of orange-red color that delivers a little delayed spiciness. The sauce is on the order of thick gravy, and adds a good dimension to the dish. This dish is a great meal when eaten with the garlic nan to sop up the sauce and wipe clean the plate—which is how the plate looked when we had finished the meal.
Food served at Baba India is of the type found in the Indian Punjab, according to Singh. The Punjab area is more westerly, and historically, was less affected by the push of Afghani and European influences that shaped the culinary habits of the North region. These influences came into the north of India and never really went beyond that area of the country.
The region is primarily farmland that produces a cornucopia of fresh vegetables, including baby eggplant, squash, spinach, potatoes, okra, and a wide variety of other less well-known vegetables indigenous to India.
For those who prefer lamb dishes, there are eight on the menu from which to choose, and my favorite of the lot is the lamb curry, found on the buffet at times. The curry features the lamb chunks cooked slowly, at a simmer, in the thick curry sauce that is fairly mild. Of course, if you want a hot one in the lamb category, vindaloo, which is a specialty of Goa, is the answer. It features chunks of lamb and potato, cooked in a thick, hot curry.
See you at Baba India!
Baba India Restaurant
3120 Madison Road Cincinnati, OH 45209