Monday, July 18, 2005


Madras Pavillion

It's time for the essay you've all been waiting for: my Madras Pavillion retrospective. (Let's call it MP for sanity)

In short: Go. Eat well. Say hi to Delfino (the manager).

I've been paying visits to this place for a few years now. In general, it's pretty darn sweet because:

1) All vegetarian
2) Huge buffet
3) Pretty good food most of the time, some of it excellent
4) South Asian food (my favorite genre - albeit a hugely general one)

I admit, this is an awesome restaurant.

Ok. Some history. I remember back in the days when the best South Asian place in town was probably Sarovar. Long ago, my son, that changed. This place came along.... and I think pretty much was king for a while. Then we saw Shalimar enter the picture and change the playing field... To me, Shalimar at its peak was the best South Asian place in Austin before or since in my experience. (ok, MP *looks* a bit better... but usually don't care about these things). Welll.... ok .. this is clearly very arguable. But no doubt about it: Shalimar was heavenly.

Look... every restaurant has something messed up going on in the kitchen... at least some of the time. MP got caught... and a couple of years ago failed a health inspection. They even closed down for a while. Then check this out: at the same time, their quality was going down.... PLUS... they raised their prices.

Thanks MP! I'll gladly pay more for your worse food that failed the inspection! Yay you! Ugh. (repeat this last word ad infinitum)

I want you to go there. The food is great. There was a stretch last year when I was going there every week. Could have been everyday it it had not been 15 minutes from work. It was scary.. I was obsessed. (Shalimar had it's era like this, too) I admit that. My denial phase is over. And ... I still... have this "problem" to some extent. To sum it up, MP has erased the dark era completely. Good has prevailed. Evil has been confined to the outskirts of the restaurant, alive, but longing for a quick death. (and I suppose much of the evil has taken shape at Shalimar, which plummetted in quality after an ownership change) No more failing inspections. MP lowered prices. Most importantly, the food!!! It has returned to its higher plane of existence. Any questions?

Ok well... the prices have gone up again. But so have all the others in town (yeah yeah blanket statement, blah blah...).

Last year I developed a system for going through the buffet. Here it is for your reference. If you have the same taste buds as mine, you shall find this method ... infallible.

1) Pick up large plate.
2) Rest two of the small bowls (of the larger variety) on the plate.
3) Fill one bowl with sambar (generally pretty good here).
4) Fill the other bowl with rasam.. Quite refreshing.
5) Pick up one idli (I've seen two kinds there... one plain, and one with.. stuff), and one vada. Both of these are quite decent. Evvvvery once in a while, the idlies feel kind of sticky... but they still taste good.
6) In the remaining real estate on your plate, you have your first choice of the day. They pretty much always have either the rice pongal or the upma available. Scoop up one of those. If sweet pongal is there, by all means... please get some, too.
7) Optionally proceed to the end of the buffet and pick up a papad. If it's anything other than brittle, discard it.
8) Also optionally pick up some of the onion or coconut chutney. I think the coconut one is worthy of moderate worship... though Rushi's is superior.

9) Go to your table.
10) Sit. Consume. Soak the idli and vada in the sambar before ending their existence.
11) When they ask you if you want a dosa, say yes if you're REALLY hungry, because we'll be going back for seconds, and possibly dessert. Oh they're great, it's just that I've personally had too many of them. As for the choice of dosa, I recommend the masala, mysore masala, or onion rava. Keep the employees on their feet by asking for a "sada masala dosa" (impossible combination, because sada means plain, while masala implies non-plain).. (I don't take credit for this one)
12) Go back for seconds. Get a large plate.
13a) If gobi manchurian (cauliflour in a chinese-influenced style) is available, fill your plate with it... and try to steal the metal container and take it home. Actually... venture into the kitchen and get all of it that you can... tell them that you'll die if you can't have it. Everyone will freak out. Madness. Let none slip through your fingers. I think they have couple more restaurants in Texas. Go to those and steal all of it from there, too. Once you're done, eat all of it, wait a week, and do it all over again for dessert. (all right... that was a joke, but.... believe me... just eat it)
13b) If gobi manchurian is not available, go home. Just kidding. Do this: declare loudly "It's a non-gobi-manchurian day" so that Delfino will hear you. Then sample whatever other stuff they have. You'll like most of it probably. Sometimes, you'll find something excellent. Whatever it is, complement it with rice or roti.

14) Go to your table
15) Sit. Consume. If you ordered a dosa, and it arrives, make sure you have more sambar and maybe chutney, and consume that as well.

16) Room for dessert? Yes, because this is all planned out. They are, however, fairly hit-or-miss in this department. If there's payasam, you're set. The warm kesari is also pretty good. Everything else is ... questionable.

17) Optionally try the curd rice if you're into that... Not my thing.

18) Go to the counter. Have some saunf. Pay. Take note of the bear near the door. And it's all done!

I hope that was helpful. Now for a summary of today's experience there:

- non-gobi-manchurian day
- sambar was a bit off
- vada was a bit undercooked
- pongal was pretty good
- idli was decent
- no dosa was had
- mattar paneer was excellent
- chana dal was excellent... and unexpected.. perhaps better than the one Bismillah made once.. before it became "El Azteca Marketa"
- the green bean thing was also hardcore excellent
- warm kesari was great

All in all, a good day! But for reasons other than those I'm used to.

I'm sure I missed something. Go there anyway! MP!

I must agree the paneer was excellent, and I too longed for a non-non-gobi-manchurian day.

However, I think you give the bear short shrift. It is far more central to every MP visit than a simple "take note of" implies. The bear is there to greet you when you come in. It wears a friendly hat. It watches over you while you eat. It ushers you out when you leave with a smile. And still wears a friendly hat. And a vest. And if you fail to tip appropriately, it bestows upon you a powerful curse which afflicts you with the inability to correctly predict a gobi-manchurian day. Or, if you are covered in honey, it eats you.
Good point. Sorry bear.

Turns out the bear is the first thing to greet you when you enter, even before Delfino can. After all, he's a busy man.

Notice there are few to no honey-based items on MP's menu.. I hate to imagine what led to that...
The bear and the whole thing about this restaurant is pretty cool. I believe I went there twice and what I remembered the most was that incredible bread !!
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