[Sorry, this place has closed]
It's generally been a struggle to find good Indian food in Miami. Renaisa, off Biscayne Boulevard and 78th Street, was my go-to place for a while (for take-out - I couldn't bear to sit in the dingy space, which has now changed hands and been made much nicer as Anise Taverna, a Greek/Med restaurant from the folks who used to run Ouzo's), but then they moved north to Heelsha around 163rd St. and I haven't gotten up that way. I've had a couple better-than-decent meals at Mint Leaf in Coral Gables, but it's rather pricy. So when a new entry in the market made its appearance, I was excited to try Indian Palate, and made my way over this week for lunch.
While walking my way to the restaurant's location at the corner of Salzedo Street and Alcazar Avenue, it gradually dawned on me what used to be there - it's the old Le Festival space! But this will not be one of my interminable reminiscences about restaurants-gone-by, I promise. It's still got ivy covering the walls outside, but the interior has been redone with Indian paintings and decorations. Lunch is done buffet-style, with a few serving tables set up in one room opposite the dining room (which appears to only have a portion of the full space open for lunch).
The buffet offered about 3-4 vegetable dishes , about 5 various meat dishes, basmati rice, a couple breads (the baskets of which were not refreshed nearly often enough), as well as another table set up as a chaat bar and yet another laid out with simple salad stuff and about a half-dozen chutneys and pickles.
My favorite thing was the chaat bar. Chaats are Indian street food, various combinations of miscellaneous crispy bits, sauces and spices. Here, they offered little puffed rice balls, crispy shredded wheat, and big round wheat puffs,along with several various sauces for topping them, including creamy yogurt, another yogurt-based sauce spiked with mint, a tart tamarind sauce, and a moderately spicy tomato chutney, along with diced fresh tomato and mint. The effect of the combination, which you can doctor as you see fit, is much like a spicy, savory, crunchy breakfast cereal, and oddly compelling.
The buffet fare was decent but not exceptional. The vegetables included a saag paneer (creamy spinach with cubes of mild cheese), a mild mixed vegetable curry, and a potato dish; the meats included a chicken tikka masala, a stewed lamb dish (rogan josh?), another dish with ground lamb or beef, and mussels in a peanut sauce. It was all OK, but there was nothing that really stood out. It was as if the spice had been turned down on everything, which I think is a mistake. Though I understand that not everyone likes spicy food, there's a difference between spicy and highly spiced. Indian food need not (should not) always be spicy, but if it's not highly spiced, then what's the point? To me that's the heart of Indian cooking.
I have read that the Indian Palate chef came over from Vix at the Hotel Victor on South Beach, which makes a lot of sense. I only ate there once, but what made the most memorable impression - other than the astronomical prices - was a bread plate that featured several delicious Indian breads, and some very savory dips including a raita and some chutneys. Now, Indian Palate offers a fuller panoply of choices, and at a much more affordable cost - our lunch buffet was $13, a bargain all things considered. The dinner menu seems a bit more convoluted, with a bunch of different combination plates, but I like the idea, since it gives an opportunity to try a broader variety of dishes. Now if they could just turn up the spice dial some so you can better distinguish one from another.
2120 Salzedo St.
Coral Gables, FL 33134