Chicken dum biryani is one of the many dishes from southern India on the menu. (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)
It says something about the appeal of this well-run Indian restaurant that in its four years of existence, it has found the need to add more and more space to its nicely decorated quarters. And perhaps even more telling is that even during the current major remodeling of the facades in Muirwood Square strip mall, Aahar has not just survived the inconvenience, it has thrived. Diners have managed to dodge the construction barriers to get there.
Although Aahar serves dinner from an extensive menu, it is the appealing lunchtime buffet, served every day except Tuesday, that attracts a lot of attention, even though it might be considered by some as India 101, or a watered-down version of the cuisine. Still, it is an ideal way for those not particularly familiar with the food of India to sample a wide array of dishes, and itís notable that it is equally popular with those born to the cuisine.
The spread includes at least 25 choices, ranging from butter chicken and crisp vegetable pakoras to heaps of fluffy basmati rice and condiments like coconut chutney and raita (yogurt and cucumber for a cooling effect), right down to desserts such as mango custard. On weekends, the array is even more extensive. And I can attest that the spice level is not timid.
Although the array changes, you can usually find one particular dish ó goat curry, the tender chunks of meat bathed in a robust but not overpowering gravy. Itís a surprising hit, especially with the non-Indian clientele. Some of the delicious breads, the flatbread naan from the clay oven and flaky paratha from the griddle, are a great accompaniment.
Although there are some northern Indian dishes, typified by the crowd-pleasing tandoori chicken, red-tinted from its marinade of chili paste and turmeric, much of the focus at Aahar is on the dishes of the south, including the deliciously complex sambar (vegetable and lentil soup that may also be used as a sauce or dip), and rasam, the pepper and lentil blend sparked with garlic, cumin and tamarind.
Dosas ó large rice and lentil crepes ó are also from the south, and they are delicious when dipped into the spicy rasam or filled with pretty much any of the meat and vegetable stews such as potatoes and onions in a light curry sauce .
Itís a relaxing lunch. No menu to peruse, no decisions to be made, except what to put on one of the big white plates. Start with just a taste of unfamiliar dishes. After all, you can always go back.
If you equate Indian food with indistinguishable murky curries, this intriguing tapestry of tastes might just change your mind.
What the ratings mean: One star equals good, but routine; 2 good-plus; 2 and a half, very good; 3 excellent; and 4 outstanding, taking into account all of the elements of dining: food, atmosphere and service. 4 is the top rating.
Aahar Indian Cuisine
35564 Grand River at Drake Road, Farmington Hills
Call: (248) 473-4500
Rating: 2Ĺ stars (out of 4)
Hours: Lunch buffet 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mon. and Wed-Fri., noon-3 p.m. Sat.-Sun.; a la carte dinner 5-10 p.m. daily except Tuesday
Prices: Buffet $8.40 Mon., Wed., Thurs.; $9.45 Fri.; $10.99 Sat.-Sun. A la carte dinner dishes $3.95-$13.95
Credit cards: All major
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Strip mall lot
Wheelchair access: No barriers