Getting a Grasp 

The service at BanZara makes a better impression than the food.

click to enlarge Saturday's buffet at BanZara in Innsbrook is a colorful spread in an area where competition is fierce among new Indian restaurants.
  • Saturday's buffet at BanZara in Innsbrook is a colorful spread in an area where competition is fierce among new Indian restaurants.

Indian cuisine can be daunting. From generous spice to cooling yogurt, India's food culture takes on many flavors, and can leave the admirer feeling inadequately informed about the variations.

BanZara House, the recently renamed curry house in Innsbrook, has a menu that can be as overwhelming as the food it purveys — six pages, laminated front and back, with words foreign to even some experienced eaters. Familiar offerings such as curry, tikki and samosas help me recall my limited knowledge of India and the foods that I've enjoyed from there. Thank goodness for exceptional servers to guide us through our meals. Each and every question — and there are many — is met with an elaborate and informed answer.

Our meals aren't on par with the level of service, but there are some high points. On one evening we're texturally surprised with an appetizer of kachori chaat ($4.99). Semolina dough called suji is formed into roti, a round, flat bread, and deep fried. Served doused in a light yogurt and with superb chutneys (my favorite being the fresh cilantro), we attempt to eat it with a fork. Noticing our blunder, our server graciously explains the seriously crunchy ball is to be eaten by hand — messiness be damned. 

All our subsequent meals continue with that same roll-your-sleeves-up manner. A spicy bright red lamb vindaloo ($13.99) looks and tastes a little on the thin side and is skimpy in portion. It makes a fantastic match with the cooling properties of our malai tikka ($13.99), chicken marinated in cream cheese, coconut milk and spicy yogurt. Tender and flavor-rich, the chicken is served still crackling from the clay oven, the smell immediately intriguing.

A serious misstep is deep-fried lentil doughnuts ($8.99) — tough, crumbly and very nearly stale tasting. We push them to the side in favor of the two sauces served with them. We slather the tomatolike and reduced-milk concoctions on the two types of naan bread ($1.99/$2.25), chili and garlic, which our attentive server thoughtfully brings in conjunction with our dinner. He goes so far as to assist us with our struggle on the dessert menu by bringing a sampler of items.

A reduced milk ice cream ($2.29) is definitely a front runner. The lethally sweet gulab juman ($2.29), a deep-fried cottage cheese ball dunked in syrup, comes in a very close second.

While potentially some of the best service I've received, I do wish BanZara would turn its attention inward. Salt and pepper shakers are sticky with remnant goo. The floors could stand both a mop and vacuum. Windows on both sides of the kitchen allow unobstructed views, but I would suggest curtains or at least Windex. For those who are into the cigarette scene, the bar is closed off for smoking, but those of us who choose to sit in the dining room share a smidge of this habit unintentionally. There's a very nice view of the advertised “largest bar in the West End.” Who can argue with that?

With the recent growth of Indian eateries in this part of Richmond, BanZara may find itself better suited to karaoke and dance music as opposed to dinner and drinks, unless it steps up its game. S

BanZara
4032-B Cox Road
762-4411
Buffet lunch Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.;
Friday-Sunday noon-3 p.m.
Dinner and bar 5-10 nightly
http://www.banzarausa.com

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