Patiala’s Boxes are a Great Value, but Lack Heat

When we checked out just-near-Penn-Station-newcomer Patiala, their chow off of the menu was something else entirely. They brought Little India-style fare and then some to this part of town, always seeking something better than awful generic delis and chain crap. Now that they’ve stabilized and have been heavily promoting quick-serve takeout from the steam tables, what better reason (other than the recent crowning of an Indian-American Miss America and the admirable reaction thereof) to give it a shot and see if their in-and-out is as good as the a la carte?

Good to know that they finally printed out actual menus! I give them props for having the menu online before the restaurant even opened.

On offer today: chicken tikka masala (that good ol’ pink puddle), some kind of amazing-looking lamb offering loaded with onions and what I hope were whole chili peppers, cauliflower, okra and paneer (YES!), what looked like palak paneer but easy on the paneer, a couple different kinds of lentils, and two kinds of rice, one of which looked like a biryani.

This was $7.41 (after tax) worth of food. The vegetarian and vegan boxes (yes, they have separate entries for vegetarian and vegan… presented without comment) are each $7. Chicken entree/vindaloo/tikka masala boxes are $8, lamb boxes are $9. The meaty boxes all come with a veg side, the veg boxes are two veg sides. Everything gets rice, your choice of lentils, and naan. Toss in some gulab jamun or a samosa if you’re famished for $2 extra each.

Let’s start things off with the base proteins. The lentils are good, nice and saucy, but underflavored. Granted, they’re meant to be neutral, but I really just wish they had some kind of zing to them. They taste like cooked lentils… that’s it. There for color and more carbs (like you need them with all this rice, seriously).

We move on to the cauliflower. This is up there as one of the better implementations of Indian cauliflower I’ve had – flavorful, perfectly cooked so it’s not too soft but not too crisp, and greasy enough to negate any benefits of a vegetarian lunch (repeat after me: “It’s vegetarian, not healthy, I still have to go to the gym later”). It has the seasoning the lentils lacked, but it lacked any real heat spice.

I mean, this close-up shows it’s definitely liberally spiced with cumin seeds, and there’s enough yellow residue to indicate heavy use of curry powder and/or turmeric. But there wasn’t any spicy heat to it. Spicy flavor, yes, but I am not afraid of spiciness. I wish they gave you coriander chutney to add a kick like they did with the a la carte… what’s up with that, Patiala?

I normally love, love, LOVE okra but there’s a very narrow margin between okra cooked nicely and okra too slimy. This is just barely on the wrong side of that margin; a bit too overcooked. It suffers the same lack of heat as the cauliflower but has its own nice spice flavor to it. It’s not a bad dish if you’ve never had okra before, but I’ve had bhindi masala in other restaurants that blew this out of the water. I probably should have gone for the palak paneer instead, which is always an amazing dish. The only way to screw it up is if you use tofu instead of paneer (if you don’t have paneer, just… I’m sorry, just don’t make palak paneer).

This huge amount of food for cheap is a bargain the likes of which you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Sure, there’s tons of steam table places and even Indian places, and they may be able to meet or beat Patiala quality if they exceed the ML limit, or be below the limit and not be good.

The + (What the rejected Miss America question-writers would say):

  • Damn, that’s a lot of food for a decent price.
  • Quick and cheap is a good combo.

The – (What the people who still confuse India and the Middle East would say):

  • This is Americanized underspiced crap, I want Punjabi-level spice power!

Patiala, 371 West 34th St., btw 8th and 9th

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