All right, so I'm cheating this week: no $10 limit. But I promise that while Curry Station's $11.99 lunch buffet may not fit into the established pattern of this weekly column, it's well worth dropping the extra $1.99.
The restaurant is actually two restaurants. The first opened on north 301 in February 2014; the second opened on Clark Road last fall. I hit up the original location when it opened, but till today haven't checked out the southern stop. Both restaurants are helmed by the ownership team of chef Narendra Singh Saud and manager Purna Das Rajakar.
Saud grew up in Mumbai, but the flavors of his food are influenced by the cuisine of Uttarakhand, the northern Indian state bordering Nepal where Saud's grandparents come from. Traveling from Mumbai to visit his family in the north would take days, and Saud remembers savoring the range of tastes he would encounter at each train stop, a memory that informs the name of his and Rajakar's restaurants.
Northern Indian cuisine is noted for its clean, unfussy flavors, Saud tells me, and it's an approach you can taste in vegetarian dishes like his aloo zucchini, a basic but flavorful blend of roasted and spiced vegetables, or kwāti, an earthy, starchy ajwain-scented nine-bean soup. Curry Station's tandoori chicken is similarly un-messed-with—just marinated bird meat roasted in a 450-degree tandoor and complemented with onions.
More developed flavors are highlighted in the restaurant's goat vindaloo. Typically blazing hot, the vindaloo here is marked as containing "med. spice," and indeed it's around a seven on my 10-point scale. The meat is soft and shredded, just barely clinging to the goat's mustard-colored bones. Bonus points for putting goat on a buffet. Same for fish, normally a risky choice, given its tendency to dry out. But the fish in "med. spicy" chili sauce has stayed flaky and tender. Large cuts of green and red peppers and onion add texture and contrast.
The saag paneer, meanwhile, includes big hunks of both potato and cheese in a creamy and complex spinach-based sauce, and the butter chicken is a smooth, refreshing break from the spicier goings-on elsewhere.
Improving everything: Curry Station's naan. The restaurant bakes it by letting it cling to the side of its backroom tandoor. It's pillow-soft but charred in spots, too. The restaurant's half-dozen-strong selection of chutneys and raita other sauces helps, too. The onion chutney provides crunch, while the creamy mint chutney adds floral notes, the tamarind chutney brings sweetness and the raita offers a tart retort to the elaborate spice of the sauces.
For dessert, Curry Station serves kheer, the sweet rice pudding that's a nostalgic throwback to Saud's childhood, and gulab jamun, golf ball-sized nuggets made of semolina flour and milk and spices (the cardamom is palpable) and then fried and dunked in simple syrup. The result is dense but not heavy, a nice pop of sugar before you head back to work. Which I need, because, whew, I just ate a lot of food. The buffet may not fit in this column's typical price range, but those 199 pennies are well spent. I may not need to eat for a week.
Curry Station has two locations: 1301 N. Washington Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 312-6264, and 3550 Clark Road, Sarasota, (941) 924-7222. Both offer a lunch buffet from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday. The Washington Boulevard location is open for dinner 5:30-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; the Clark Road location is open for dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday. For more info, click here.