An Evening in Mumbai India at The Bombay Bistro – Not really!!

It was a long, stressful week which ended with a really great Friday – a little quieter at work, my son got his first hit in little league & stole 3rd base, and then followed up with an awesome performance as an Italian juggler in his school’s rendition of “Circus Around the World” presented by Circus Minimus.  To celebrate his victories, we decided to go out to eat and invited my mother along.  Since their circus performance ended with an Indian Bhangra dance performed by all the kids in unison, we were in the mood for Indian food.  If you’ll recall from an earlier blog I don’t go out for Indian food very often.  I was now going to make an exception for the second time in as many months – it was 7:30pm and my son was starving.
There is, in my town, an Indian restaurant called The Bombay Bistro.  We have been there once before and had a decent experience (the service was a bit lacking) so I thought I would give it another shot.  A little history on the place – it used to be called Dabbawalla when it originally opened and the concept & name was in honor of the many tiffin (stainless steel, multi-tiered lunch boxes) carriers who deliver lunches to offices all over Mumbai each day.  The place was a failure from the start with loud décor, uncomfortable seating, poor service, and food that never quite pleased.  There was barely a soul in the place even during the typically busy Friday & Saturday evenings.  The owners eventually caught on and gave the restaurant a transformation.
The new Bombay Bistro is an homage to the city of Mumbai as it is today.  As you walk into the entryway to the restaurant, there is a waiting area with a couch and some books about Mumbai.  Our hostess greeted us with a smile for a greeting and led us to our table.  As I entered the restaurant, I really did feel like I had stepped into one of the many street side restaurants in Mumbai with simple tables & chairs, on tiled floor, and a busy kitchen at the back.  Only this one was clearly decorated by an interior designer with nice lighting and painted walls – not typical of a Mumbai restaurant at all with peeling paint on walls, lights hanging off exposed wiring, and the clear smell of insecticide or Detol.  The coolest part of the décor is the representation of the railroad stations in Mumbai with the main station stops highlighted.  This took me and my mother down memory lane as we shared stories with my son about the place that I was born, where my grandparents lived, and so many more.  The restaurant had definitely succeeded in transporting us to another time and place.  Would the food and service follow through?
We perused through the menu which is unusual for an Indian restaurant as it is a mix of traditional dishes like Chicken Tikka Masala with some modern ones added like the Bombay Masala Burger.  The menu has traditional vegetarian items, but is also bold enough to include beef and pork which are rare finds in an Indian restaurant due to religious reasons.  They also offer a kids menu.  There’s a whole post coming one of these days about my opinion on kid’s menus so I’ll leave it alone for now.  Suffice it to say that whenever my son is handed one, he politely asks the host/hostess “may I please have a real food menu?” 
For appetizers we ordered Papadum, Punjabi Samosa & Chicken Malai Tikka and for entrees we settled on Dahi Bhindi (okra in a yogurt sauce), Miloni Subz (I believe a misprint which should read Subzi which means vegetable), an interesting mixture of string beans, corn, carrots and pureed spinach, and Meatloaf with mushroom gravy.  We also ordered some Rosemary & EVOO Naan.  My mother fasts on Fridays and so only eats a vegetarian meal once that day; thus the largely vegetarian choices.  Also for that reason she does not drink alcohol so I went next door to The Wine List and had them recommend a beer to go with my meal.  I had to flag down the server to get me a glass and opener.

Our appetizers were okay.  I still can’t believe that an Indian restaurant serves papadum (we call it papad in my part of India) as a menu item and charges $4 for it.  It should be served like chips & salsa at a Mexican restaurant or bread & butter elsewhere.  I have noted before that Indian restaurants do not believe in serving anything complimentary.  But the papad was presented in a cool way and showed some effort.  The samosas were ordinary and like so many others I have had, and the chicken, while tender, lacked flavor.

Then we waited for what seemed like a long time.  My son was tired from his day and started dozing off.  I, for one, can’t stand to have dirty plates left in front of me for too long without being picked up.  No one came…..  Finally our server came over and said cheerfully “Are you ready for your entrees?”  As if we were holding the process up somehow. 

Our entrees arrived and looked decent.  One new concept that many Indian restaurants are trying nowadays to please the Western/American audience is to serve everything for an individual rather than to share.  I’m not sure I’m sold on it yet because Indian food by nature of the culture does not lend itself to it and I have yet to see it done successfully.  So each of the vegetable dishes came with rice and a piece of papad, and the meatloaf came sliced with mashed potatoes & sautéed spinach.  This made it a bit difficult to share but we figured it out. 
The Dahi Bhindi was probably my favorite item of the night as it had good flavor.  But it had too much of the yogurt sauce for my taste.  The meatloaf had gray color to it and one big no no in food is to serve anything that looks gray – extremely unappealing.  Also the meatloaf really had no distinctive flavor and there was absolutely nothing Indian about it.  Having made many a meatloaf over the years with an Indian twist, I can confidently say this one belonged on the menu of a dive diner in the middle of nowhere rather than as $24 item on the menu of a trying to be upscale restaurant in Summit.  The other vegetable dish was a bit strange and forgettable.  The naan, by the way, had no flavor of Rosemary whatsoever and was too tough.  I don’t even need a tandoor to produce that quality.  The best part of my meal was the beer I brought in.
Well that about says it all.  Would I go back?  Probably not!  Will the restaurant succeed in the town?  Yes, with some adjustments to service it can succeed.  Now that may sound contradictory but there is a reason for my belief.  I believe this new concept for this restaurant will succeed because it appeals to the patronage that will largely be going there.  It’s Indian food that is not authentic but comes close enough to please the palates of those who prefer bland food with not too much heat.  For those who want real Indian food with the authentic flavors and kick, I suggest going elsewhere.  If you know me, come on over.  Unfortunately what so many Indian restaurants that try to crossover, like The Bombay Bistro, don’t realize is that one does not need to compromise flavor when sacrificing the heat.  All you need is a little imagination.
I wish we had gone out for Pizza instead. Or better yet back to Paradise Biryani……..
Happy Eating!!
Swati

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