I was curious. I looked up "haveli." Itís an Indian word that means mansion, usually one with historical and architectural significance. Huh. That doesnít exactly describe the building in a shopping center off Dale Mabry Highway in which Haveli Indian Kitchen opened about a month ago.
Itís an odd space, lunch buffet tables lined up on one side, narrow little dining room on the other with only about a half-dozen tables, another big handful of tables on a patio under an overhang. In what was formerly a Greek restaurant, it has undergone a gussying ó yellow and orange walls are festooned with Indian tapestries, and multicolored glass pendants add pretty light ó but this is most assuredly not a mansion.
Opened by Sahil Patel and Pawan Kumar (Kumar has two other restaurants on Fowler Avenue and one in Orlando, with another Haveli under construction in Temple Terrace), Haveli is fairly humble. That said, it has much to recommend.
Iím going to say the lunch buffet ($9.99) is the way to go instead of the a la carte dinners, partly because service at dinner is strangely slow and a buffet moves as quickly as you want to hustle over to the phalanx of metal tureens. This is not regional Indian, but a more general "greatest hits" approach, preparations ranging from vindaloo to korma to rogan josh, but with a few dishes that introduce a slight Chinese-Indian mashup for a wild hair.
At lunch the buffet is not vast, but itís attractively arrayed in big silver tureens, each one getting a hand-lettered Post-It note description (paneer tikka masala, chicken saag, goat biryani, etc.). The tandoori chicken, bright red-pink and moist, is nestled in with loads of caramelized onions and wedges of lemon; the chicken tikka masala is a classic, creamy-tomatoey and addictive, the sauce good by itself ladled over fluffy basmati.
Spice level on the buffet is modest, the naan and accouterments are freshly made and frequently replenished. At dinner, I must tell you, if you ask for dishes hot, they oblige. Big time. I was sniffling and nearly incapacitated by one eveningís lamb vindaloo, a Taj Mahal Indian lager doing little to douse the flames (beverages are fairly limited, just a couple wines, including a truly awful sweet bubbly moscato, and a few large-production beers). Youíve been warned.
Biryani options are uniformly appealing ($11.95 to $15.95), from the veggie/egg/mushroom medley, really Indiaís rebuttal to fried rice, the basmati holding its form a little more and going a little crunchy in bits (a good thing), to the lamb or goat versions, the just-musky meat a great foil for the sweet and nutty rice.
From the tandoor emanate some of the better dishes, from the classic chicken tikka ($13.95), the meat marinated in seasoned yogurt overnight, zipped in the tandoor and then married with a tomatoey sauce, to a no tomato, no red dye Hariyali version ($13.95) where the chicken is marinated in a mint, cilantro and yogurt. Usually this dish is served in an emerald sauce of sorts; at Haveli it was more of a dry style with onions and lemons, like a classic tandoori chicken.
The restaurant offers a nice array of veg dishes, two solid daals ($11.95), one lentils with tomatoes, the other a creamier, richer lentil stew that works as a standalone veg dish or as a sultry sort of sauce with the tandoori chicken. The eggplant curry ($12.95) is advertised as a dish with peanut and sesame sauce. I detected neither, but what to me read like a straight-up baingan bharta brought softly cooked eggplant with onions and a slightly tomato-tinged curry ó very appealing.
New Tampa is brimming with decent Indian food, a function of demographics. Carrollwood has been a little less successful in this arena, so itís nice to see a competent and well-priced buffet. At dinner some of the details (service pacing, breadth of beverage offerings) take wind out of Haveliís sails. But from a seasoned operator such as Kumar, perhaps in time it will become a destination for Indian food fans, if never exactly a historically significant mansion.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines unannounced and the Times pays all expenses.