Thumbs up to an Indian place in Polaris.
My experience at Cumin, a new Indian restaurant in the Polaris area, varied quite a lot. The a la carte food the first time was bland and boring. But on two later visits, it was up to par for decent Indian restaurants in town. To my surprise, the food in the lunch buffet was notably better than on my first visit, and the a la carte offerings on my second trip were even better than the buffet.
My guess is that I hit one night when the chef called in sick, so bear in mind that all the disappointing dishes I’m about to mention were served the same evening. (And it should be noted the establishment occupies the space that housed the now closed Bayleaf Indian Bistro.)
Some appetizers were excellent. Spicy mango shrimp resembled a Chinese sweet-and-sour dish, with mango spicy tang and nicely cooked fresh shrimp. I particularly liked bhel poori. Have you ever visited an Indian grocery store and seen bin after bin of different sorts of what looked like small crackers, cereal and so on? This was a dish that used those assorted crisps and noodles, mixed with chopped onions and tomatoes and topped with tamarind and mint chutneys. It was an interesting and delicious mix of textures and flavors. But don’t dally, or some of the bits will get soggy. Cumin’s samosas, presented with colorful vegetable rings, were slightly doughy and lacked flavor. Also lacking in flavor was fish amritsari, but the tilapia was fresh and had nice raw vegetable bits with what were supposedly spices and (bland) ginger-garlic paste.
If you order dinner, you get your choice of soup or a basic salad. I suggest the thin and tasty lentil vegetarian soup. And the rice served with dinner was a good long-grain basmati, nicely cooked and attractively topped with carrots and peas.
Saag paneer, spinach with cheese, was boring, with grayish spinach lacking in flavor. Peshawari cholley—chickpeas in an onion, tomato and garlic sauce—was sour and lacked salt; it was slightly hot (in either sense). Yellow tarka dal, simmered yellow lentils, was lacking in flavor.
By contrast, saag paneer on the lunch buffet a different day was quite good, with a nice green to the spinach and mild but good flavor. A chicken curry was acceptable, as were the four other dishes I sampled from the buffet: a-loo gobhi zaikedar (cauliflower and potato), lamb korma (if I read the labels right) and two kinds of rice. The buffet also offered lots of other stuff, including a whole confusing line of sauces. You can sample all four desserts, which, of course, I did. They were better than I expected. In particular, the rice pudding was thin, but good, and, while the mango custard looked like Cheez Whiz, it was nice.
I had never tried gobhi Manchurian before. I’m glad I did. It was succulent batter-fried pieces of cauliflower sautéed with pieces of bell pepper and onion in a sauce identified only as “the Chef’s special sauce.” Malabar jhinga curry (“An Indian Classic,” according the menu) was excellent, with large shrimp in a sauce full of flavor from curry, coconut, herbs and spices. Rogan josh, another classic, provided tender and tasty lumps of lamb in a mild curry sauce, unusually garnished with cilantro. The competently cooked mixed tandoori grill was an interesting assortment of kebabs and other meats in that lovely orange shade of tandoori marinade.
Breads were good, even on the evening when the other dishes were off. The bread basket provided regular and garlic naan and onion kulcha. I also tried missi roti, a thin bread of chickpea and whole wheat flour with onion, cilantro and spices, and pudina paratha, whole wheat bread filled with seasoned mint leaves and cooked on a griddle.
The drink menu listed one Indian wine, but it wasn’t available during my trips. The Indian beers were surprisingly good; I liked Flying Horse Royal Lager Beer, which was clean, balanced and flavorful.
Cumin Indian Restaurant
1025 Polaris Pkwy.
Atmosphere: Spacious, attractive, relaxed.
Recommended dishes: Spicy mango shrimp, bhel poori, gobhi Manchurian, malabar jhinga curry, rogan josh.
Price range: Appetizers $3.99-$9.99; soups, salads and sides $3.99-$4.99; entrees $9.99-$17.99; breads $1.99-$5.99; desserts $3.99-$7.99.
Hours: Lunch buffet Monday through Friday 11 am to 2 pm and Saturday and Sunday 11:30 am to 3 pm; dinner 5 to 10 pm daily.
Service: Uneven. Sometimes good, other times confused.