As a general rule, the Indian buffet exists as a kind of a challenge to your intestinal mettle. The promise of cheap, repeating shovel loads of chicken tikka masala, saag paneer
, chana masala
, and dal makhani
can interrupt the neural pathways that ordinarily allow you to exercise caution in the face of potentially dangerous material of uncertain age and origin. The folks behind Tava in Morton Grove address this perception head on and take great pains to emphasize the freshness and quality of their AYCE lunch buffet. Everything made from scratch daily, they claim, nothing frozen, nothing left over, always rotating, and commonly featuring at least a few dishes you don't see every day. It's difficult to imagine how that's not unprofitable for a restaurant, but I'm going to vouch for it.
Tava is a spiffy strip-mall storefront along busy Dempster, named for a circular, convex metal griddle used over large parts of Asia for everything from bread to meats to vegetables. And the namesake tava
is the showpiece of the buffet. Positioned next to a generous selection of chutneys, pickles, raita, and garnishes, it's mounded with some sort of stir-fry option, vegetable or animal. On a recent pass it was sizzling a tamarind laced potato-onion concoction the house called "aloo bomb." I don't know if that's a slangy name or if it's a relative of the stuffed potato street snack aloo ka bomb
, which it doesn't much resemble, but it's pretty good. Otherwise you might run across something like a sweetish, cooked-down cabbage masala or aloo banda
—South Indian turmeric-tinged potato fritters fried in chickpea batter—or chole bhature
, a breakfast one-two punch of spicy chickpeas and fried bread that originated in Delhi. And the standards stand out. The saag is made with fresh spinach and olive oil (rather than ghee), goat curry is laden with tender nuggets of bone-in meat, and even a heavy-cream saturated bummer like navratan korma
, usually made with frozen vegetables, tastes pretty remarkable.
On top of all that each table is presented with a basket of fresh naan and a sizzling platter of tender charcoal fired tandoori chicken, which, the busier it gets, begins to suffuse the dining room with a smoky tandoori haze. Tava has a huge a la carte menu of dishes in the relatively pricy $10-$18 range that would take you weeks to properly explore, but the $12 buffet is the reason you drive past Devon and head for the burbs.Tava, 7172 Dempster, Morton Grove, 847-966-8282, tavadining.com