If you’re not familiar with Bollywood, it’s the Hindi language film industry based in India, formally referred to as Hindi Cinema. Below are two examples of wonderful and typical Bollywood productions. If you have trouble seeing the videos, click here.
The word “Mela” means “gathering” or “festival” and fits perfectly when describing this Lexington Avenue restaurant’s buffet. Served seven days a week, from 11:30AM to 2:30PM, it’s become a staple for downtown lunching.
After the hostess showed the four of us to a table, she took our drink order. We were then free to head on over to the buffet. As our group (both Indian food virgins and pros) moved through the buffet line, we read descriptions posted above each dish. Never hurts.
Between the two plates I managed to completely fill, I had almost every dish on the buffet! Notice both plates have the small bowl holding a most fabulous dessert, Semiya Payasan – vermicelli cooked with milk, cashews, fresh cardamom and raisins. Not easy to eat with a spoon, but oh so delicious!
Two types of rice, both basmati, were offered. One was Lemon Rice, cooked with lemon juice, turmeric powder, mustard seeds, curry leaves and ginger. The other, a Pilaf, cooked with cloves, cumin seeds, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks. Both done beautifully.
There were also two Masala dishes (“Masala” means spice/herb blend): Madras Mushroom Masala, a mushroom dish cooked with curry leaves, mustard seeds, onion, tomato, ginger and garlic, and Paneer Masala with Beans. I believe Mela makes their Paneer (cheese) in-house. The Paneer and fresh vegetables were cooked with curry leaves, mustard seeds, onion, tomato, ginger and garlic.
Both Masalas were good, but I preferred the Paneer Masala even though the veggies were a bit too cooked for my taste. That is sometimes a problem with buffets even if the veggies are crisp when they came out of the kitchen.
One of my favorites was the Assorted Pakoras (vegan). This was a collection of assorted vegetables (squash, zucchini) in a chickpea batter with rice flour, ginger, garlic and cumin seeds. The description mentions “other spices”, but I couldn’t make out anything particular.
My other favorites, outside the dessert, were the two chicken dishes: Tandoori Chicken, marinated with yogurt, lemon juice, ginger and garlic, and Malabar Chicken Curry. Really, the Malabar Chicken Curry was my number one favorite this time. It’s made with coconut milk, curry leaves and mustard seeds. Tender, flavorful and delicious!
I like my greens, but decided to pass on the Saag Chole – (Saag – “tender green leaves”, Chole – “chickpeas”) spinach with chickpeas cooked with ginger, garlic and onions. Just not into it, even though it looked fine.
Mela’s interior is comfortable. It’s not huge and not over-the-top Indian, but has enough architectural touches to make you feel that you’re in an Indian restaurant. The one large dining area also houses the rather nice bar, including a flat screen TV mounted high enough that the folks in the bar probably get stiff necks, while others in far away corners can see it just fine.
Service was okay, but I’m thinking the staff has become a little to complacent because it’s a buffet. Used plates started to pile up at our table and drinks were a little slow on the refill.
Whether you love spice with lots of heat or spice with the heat toned down or even non-existent, you can find it at Mela. Good food, casual and a great place to gather with friends.
Mela – Indian Restaurant
70 North Lexington Avenue
Asheville, NC 28801-2823