Adventure Lunchers Should Flock to Kashmir Buffet

There are two kinds of lunchers in Midtown.  Those who will travel (us), and those who won’t (the people who eat at Cafe Metro.)  And within the group of people I like to refer to as Midtown Lunch’ers (those who travel) there are two sub sets of people:  those who are just looking for good lunch at a decent price, and those who treat every lunch as some sort of adventure.  Adventure lunchers are the ones who flocked to the 38th St Restaurant and Bakery (now Ying Du) after I wrote this post. Adventure lunchers are the ones who used Street Meat Palooza as a personal checklist (stomachs be damned!)  Adventure lunchers are the ones who would choose grossing out their co-workers over their own personal well being.  And yes, some of them will even eat the Walgreens Sandwich. (Although there are a lot of people who will eat a gross cold cuts sandwich from Walgreens, but wouldn’t eat at Ying Du… and those people are lame.)

It was with that attitude that I ventured into Kashmir Buffet on Tuesday, determined to finally try what is now the cheapest all you can eat buffet in Midtown.

If you are not familiar with Kashmir, here is a quick recap.  This basement buffet was been around forever, and developed a small following before opening a street level by the pound “Express” version upstairs. In October of 2008, the whole operation was shuttered by the DOH- and when it reopened, Kashmir had been replaced by The Cave Lounge, a renovated basement bar… with no buffet.

Fast forward to March 2009: the $8.95 all you can eat Indian/Pakistani buffet makes its triumphant return to “The Cave Lounge”. I’m still a little scared. In fact, I’ve always been scared of this place. The food in the “Express” location looks ok, but nobody is ever in there, which gives me the sneaking suspicion that the food sits out there for hours and hours and hours. Apparently I’m not the only one who is scared, because last week, I noticed that they had lowered the price of the buffet to $7.95.

Now, to some this would be a huge red flag. Why did they lower the price? Why doesn’t anybody eat there? Does this mean they’re using cheaper ingredients? WHY!?!?! I, on the other hand, interpreted this as a message from some sort of higher power. It was finally time to try the Kashmir Buffet.

Kashmir

To give myself the best chance of success, I decided to hit this place up at the perfect buffet time of 11:45am. In theory, everything should be untouched and at its freshest. The place was empty (obviously) save for one guy sitting at the bar, who didn’t appear to work there, couldn’t help me out, wasn’t eating… but never left. Very strange.

Finally the “waiter” came out, and took me to a table. Actually, waiter is a strong word for what this guy was. “Random guy who does everything” is more like it. In fact, save for a couple of guys taking trays of food to the upstairs by the pound buffet, he was the only seemingly “official” employee I saw for my entire lunch. It’s a real skeleton crew. I asked for water, and he brought me a bottled water (not included in the price of the buffet.) “Are you trying to tell me something about your tap water, buddy?” Not comforting.

When I went up for my first plate, he warned me that the metal covers were very very hot. They weren’t. (In fact, one was actually cold.) And, even though I’m skipping ahead a bit, neither was the food. That’s right. At Noon, the food at the Kashmir Buffet was already lukewarm. It wasn’t inedible, but if it wasn’t piping hot at Noon, I’m guessing it’s never piping hot. It probably had something to do with the little burners below not being lit. Oversight perhaps? Maybe the ONE employee was just having an off day. So… just to recap. Place is deserted, only one employee is there- who clearly has no idea what he’s doing, strange lurker in the front, food is not that warm, and they don’t want me to drink the tap water. This is a good start.

Kashmir
First plate should always be a “feeler” plate (a little bit of everything)

And then something happened. I tried the food.  Most Indian buffets in Midtown all serve the same dishes, so there’s only two things to concern yourself with: quality and price.  But this place was different.  Price is scary low, quality is questionable… but this food was not your average Indian buffet fare.  It was interesting.  And flavorful.  And spicy! (In a good way.)   Now I’ll admit that I don’t really know the difference between Pakistani food and Indian food. (I’m guess very few people in the United States do.) My best friend in junior high and high school was from Pakistan, and his family owned a restaurant called “House of India”, so that should give you a general idea about the state of Pakistani food in this country.

chicken_lamb

So, my hunch is that some of these dishes are more Pakistani than Indian, but I don’t know for sure.  Either way, despite the fact that they weren’t hot, and this was one of the odder places I had ever dined it- the food was really tasty. Sure, they had a version of chicken tikka masala on the buffet (which was fine). And there was a tender lamb dish (always a good thing.) But they also had this amazing ground chicken dish, which was kind of like the Pakistani version of a  pretty well known Thai dish. In other words, this is not your standard buffet.

veggies

In addition to ground meat kebabs (which probably would have been much tastier if they had been warm) they also had chicken makhani, which was chunks of chiken in a yellow cream sauce. For vegetable dishes they had a potato dish, a whole okra dish (not diced), a dish of cauliflower/broccoli, and a string bean dish. These were all fine… and I can’t say if I would definitely recommend this buffet to a vegetarian. It’s just not my area of expertise (and none of the veggie dishes were my favorite.)

The final bonus was the rice… they had a tasty chicken biriyani on the buffet (as well as a vegetarian version) which I was really into. It was on the dry side (which is exactly how I like my biriyani) and had big chunks of dark meat chicken in it. Really flavorful, and not something you see on too many under $11 Indian buffets in Midtown.

An Indian buffet is not complete without the bread, and they have naan- but I had to ask for them to bring it out, and when they did the one other guy eating at the buffet took 3 out of 4 of the pieces before I had a chance to get up there.  I asked for more, and when the second round came out- there was more of it, but it was a tad bit undercooked and doughy (not surprisingly.)  Let’s just say, this wasn’t the fresh cooked, slathered in butter, hot beautiful naan that you get at Spice Fusion (on 8th Ave. btw. 47+48th).

So, what’s the takeaway from this place?  Will everybody like it?  Definitely not.  It is as sketchy as you would expect, the service is terrible, and if more than 3 people showed up at the same time- I don’t know what would happen.  (There would definitely be a bread shortage, you’ll wait forever for your bill, and you might even get to see the solitary employee’s head explode.)  But, if all you care about is trying interesting food that tastes really good (even if it’s lukewarm) you will definitely enjoy this meal.  For all its faults, there is definitely somebody who knows how to cook in the back of Kashmir.  I’m just scared to see what happens if people start to actually eat there…

THE +

  • It’s all you can eat for $7.95!
  • Much more interesting food than your average Indian all you can eat buffet
  • They’ve got lamb
  • The ground chicken dish was really good (and different)
  • Almost everything is mildly spicy (probably because every dish was topped with sliced green chilies)

THE -

  • It’s all you can eat for $7.95! (There must be something weird going on at this place)
  • It’s empty and sketchy (and the ambiance is terrible)
  • The service is super slow
  • The food was not hot on the day I was there (at Noon!)
  • The naan is just ok
  • It’s spicy (so if you don’t like your food spicy, you won’t be into this place.)
  • Did I mention it’s sketchy?

Kashmir Kebab House, 601 8th Ave (btw. 39+40th), 212-594-3777

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