Restaurant Review: Cumin

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

When I heard Bayleaf was going out of business, I grimaced. The Polaris-area restaurant was one of my favorite places for Indian food.

But when I heard the Cuisine of India people were taking over, I cheered up. You see, like Bayleaf, Cuisine of India is modern and authentic, serving both beloved classics plus lots of contemporary-style dishes popular in cosmopolitan Indian cities.

So when I waltzed into Bayleaf's newly opened replacement called Cumin Indian Restaurant, my expectations were pretty high. After a few visits, I realized this newbie was destined to shoot to the top of my Indian food list.

Other than closing off the once-open kitchen, Cumin's owners haven't performed any drastic cosmetic makeovers. It's still a big, modern, open and airy room with few, if pleasant decorations (chiefly multi-hued, saucer-shaped chandeliers) to distract visitors from the task at hand - masticating on fabulously flavored chow.

While buffets aren't usually my thing, Cumin's is, especially on weekends. That's when the chaat station gets cranking, and I'm an inveterate fan of chaat.

If you've never had them, chaats are Indian street-sold snacks that are meat-free riots of bold condiments, wild flavors and manifold textures. Fortunately, this generalization held true on a recent -and blissfully lengthy - lunchtime stopover to Cumin's great buffet.

In front of a longish line and manning a mammoth round pan, the buffet's chaat guy began with a crispy puck of a potato pancake. To that he added a scoop of soupy, highly seasoned chick peas. Then came the garnishing onslaught: tart yogurt; chutneys of coriander (spicy) and tamarind (sweet); diced raw onion, tomato and cilantro; plus a finishing dusting of exotic, eggy-tasting chaat masala. It's a crazy mess to eat, but I find its push-me/pull-me flavors and textures to be an incomparable delight.

Post-chaat, there's a dizzying array of buffet choices - the thing goes on like forever. I counted six meat entrees (two in kabob form); five veggie entrees; two soups; two rice dishes; a large salad/condiment bar; and four desserts.

I liked everything I tried, but was especially fond of the Baigan Bharta (wonderful eggplant stew), Aloo Cabbage (addictive mixed vegetable curry), and spicy, sweet and sour chicken dumplings.

As for non-buffet appetizers, the huge, dense and firm chili-marinated homemade cheese kabobs (Paneer Shaslik, $9) had a great grilled flavor but their accompanying veggies (onion, garlic, peppers) were disarmingly uncooked.

For an explosive curry, go for the Cumin Melthi Harydi ($12). Featuring a complex, aromatic, rich, carrot-colored gravy with a sneaky heat, the head-spinning dish was cleverly equipped with refreshing, mouth-cleansing sticks of ginger. Awesome.

On the tamer side, but still terrific, was Cumin's sizzling grill ($15, easily feeds two). Like a giant platter of mixed Indian fajitas, it's a great way to sample several items on Cumin's large menu.

The "grill" was a round up of about five kinds of smokily seared, delicious kabobs, my favorites of which were Haryali Tikka (juicy, boneless chicken chunks in a zesty pesto) and Lajwab Seek kabob (huge logs of ground lamb with minced green pepper, onion and cilantro). The mammoth dinner came with fluffy basmati rice and excellent dal.

While none of Cumin's desserts disappointed, the Gajar Halwa ($4 - milky, cardamomy, nutty and fruity shredded carrots) was especially fun to munch.

To read G.A. Benton's blog, visit ColumbusDiningGuide.com

Cumin

1025 Polaris Pkwy., Polaris

614-854-0775

Cuisine: Indian

Price: $$ ($10-$20 per person)

Patio: No

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday buffet, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday buffet, 5-10 p.m. dinner daily