Fresh from Tiffin's tandoori ovens to your marble-inlaid table

TABLE TALK

October 29, 1998|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

We opened dinner menus at Tiffin to read that the name of this Indian restaurant actually translates as lunch. Sure enough, a long serving table with empty chafing dishes stood against one wall, ready for the next day's elaborate lunch buffet.

If you're going to travel a distance to eat at Tiffin in Langley Park, go for the lunch buffet, a terrific deal that includes soup, appetizers, dessert and a half-dozen freshly made meat and vegetarian dishes, all for $5.95 during the week and $7.95 on weekends. Those "grand opening" prices have been in place since Tiffin opened in April near its sister restaurant, Udupi Palace; buffet prices will go up a dollar soon.

One thing you won't find on the buffet line is bread. That's because it's brought steaming hot to your table, fresh from the tandoori oven. Our waitress served us a basket filled with wedges of naan, plus a small pancake made with fresh vegetables and herbs.

The oven-to-table breads are part of what makes Tiffin special, along with doting service, and the tranquil, open atmosphere of the mint-green room. A mirror against the back wall reflects the image of rows of oval lights hanging from the exposed ceiling, and curves of bentwood chairs set around marble-inlaid tables.

If the room has an upscale feel, so does the buffet - mainly because the staff manages to keep everything looking and tasting like it all just came from the kitchen.

On the weekend afternoon we visited, the buffet started with a mild and creamy tomato soup and two appetizers - spicy chickpeas in a thick, fragrant paste and soft potato fritters. We spooned out portions of pungent lemon pickle, mild cucumber and yogurt raita, and green coriander chutney to eat along with them.

Onto a bed of basmati rice, we ladled tender curried goat in a dark, fiery sauce; chicken on the bone cooked in a less-spicy vindaloo sauce with chunks of potatoes; and juicy pieces of tandoori chicken. Vegetable dishes included seasoned chopped greens and potatoes; smooth yellow lentil dal; and curried button mushrooms and green peppers cooked with cinnamon and spices.

Our dinner at Tiffin wasn't quite as smooth as our experience at lunch. Bitter baby eggplant served in a thick, bland curry sauce was disappointing, and we found that the tandoori chicken at lunch was more flavorflu than what was on the a la carte appetizer platter at dinner. That dish also included fried, potato-filled samosas, vegetable fritters (pakoras) and herb-flecked sausages that were all fairly ordinary.

We preferred creamy mulligatawny lentil soup and chunks of fried fish splashed with vinegar hot sauce as starters.

Among our entrees, we had to work a little to get at the moist flesh of a small, bony rockfish, which was done to a crispy brown in the tandoori oven. But big chunks of lamb and potatoes done vindaloo-style required nothing more than an appreciation of sauces with complex heat. We sopped up the vindaloo with pieces of golden fried poori and moist onion kulcha, two more of Tiffin's outstanding breads.

For dessert, you might want to try squares of pressed cheese in pistachio cream or a cone of saffron ice cream topped with rice noodles. But gulab jamun, fried cheese balls soaked in honey, is the traditional crowd-pleaser. That's why it's often featured on the buffet.

Tiffin

1341 University Blvd. East, Langley Park

301-434-9200

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: Major credit cards

Prices: Appetizers, $2.50-$7.95; entrees, $6.50-$13.95. Daily lunch buffet: $5.95 weekdays; $7.95 weekends

Food: ***

Service: *** 1/2

Atmosphere: ***

Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven **; Poor *

Pub Date: 10/29/98

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