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Green Chili Indian Bistro in St. Petersburg lines up Indian lunch buffet

Samuel Murphy and Gabriella Kan survey the steam-tray line at Green Chili Indian Bistro in downtown St. Petersburg. The owners wanted to create a fast and affordable Indian restaurant that serves items cafeteria-style.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Samuel Murphy and Gabriella Kan survey the steam-tray line at Green Chili Indian Bistro in downtown St. Petersburg. The owners wanted to create a fast and affordable Indian restaurant that serves items cafeteria-style.

ST. PETERSBURG — The concept is diabolically savvy. Downtown lost a longtime favorite Indian lunch buffet when India Grill closed at the end of last year. The benefits of such a buffet? Office workers with limited time can zip in at lunchtime, load up and chow. No waiting for the kitchen to prepare your order. But sometimes your appetite or wallet contents aren't so strapping. Wouldn't it be nice to have quick-serve, already-prepared Indian food downtown offered a la carte?

Green Chili Indian Bistro opened in January. Medhu and Naresh Sharma, who own the excellent Raga Asian Indian Restaurant in Clearwater, took over the space that used to house a Blimpie sub shop. They've installed a short cafeteria-style steam-tray line, offering 10 or so vegetarian and meaty curries and dals: two veggie dishes, rice and bread for $5.75; two meat dishes, rice and bread for $6.95; or one each, rice and bread for $6.25. Add a side of spicy pickle or raita for 75 cents, a potato samosa for $2.75, or finish off with a rice pudding for $2.50, but that's about it.

Walk in and peruse. There's a potato and cauliflower aloo gobi, a chili-tinged north Indian chickpea curry called chole, or a crunchy, pale yellow cabbage saute dotted with black mustard and cumin seed. Farther along you'll find a tomatoey butter chicken or mild chicken curry. Another day there might be creamy vegetable korma or spongy cubes of Indian farmer cheese, called paneer, nestled in Popeye's dream, a bath of pureed spinach. Point to what catches your eye and it gets ladled into a three-section plastic plate (to-go orders get the classic three-section clamshell). Portions aren't enormously generous (one day's chicken curry order was just four tiny pieces), but it's filling stuff, especially with a swath of fried poori for mopping up the sauces. (Crisp, peppery papadum for $1 is also on offer, but I pine a little for the hot, pillowy naan they make at Raga. Maybe the lack of a tandoor on the property makes this bread trickier at Green Chili.)

In general, dishes are very mild. Personally, I like a bit more fire and flavor intensity, but a wall of Indian condiments can doctor things up in a jiff.

Decor is simple and clean, with no-frills cafe chairs and laminate-topped round tables. The Sharmas aim to add a full dinner menu sometime soon, which might necessitate a bit more glamor in the dining room. As is, it fills a niche — for when you need chicken tikka and a mango lassi, pronto.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.

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Green Chili Indian Bistro

360 Central Ave., St. Petersburg

(727) 894-3663

Cuisine: Quick Indian

Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday

Details: V, MC, Amex; no reservations; beer and wine

Prices: Wraps $4.99-$5.25, combo curries $5.75-$6.95, sides 75 cents

Rating out of four stars:

Food: ★★ Service: ★★
Atmosphere: ★★

Overall: ★★

Green Chili Indian Bistro in St. Petersburg lines up Indian lunch buffet 02/18/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 19, 2009 8:31am]

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