Quick Bites: Lockport's Indian Grill + Bamboo China, Reborn

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Indian Grill Restaurant & Bar
80 Main St., Lockport, NY
Web: Indian Grill Restaurant & Bar
Phone: 716.433.8899
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"Our favorite item of the bunch was the Rose Pudding, a warm, thick, watermelon-colored pudding with modest hints of rosewater flavor and nice sliced cashews; we ate two or three servings after bowing out of the entrees."

We have some big adventures planned for the next few weeks, so we took this weekend easy with visits to two small and affordable ethnic restaurants. One was the Indian Grill Restaurant and Bar in Lockport, and the other was Williamsville's Bamboo China, which closed its freestanding restaurant in 2008 and subsequently reopened as a take-out closer to Snyder. Though we weren't really impressed with either place, and haven't assigned either a star rating, this article takes brief looks at each one and offers preliminary thoughts.

Indian Grill Restaurant and Bar. Normally, restaurants with buffets jump at the chance to serve patrons more expensive items off the menu, but at Lockport's Indian Grill, our request for a menu was forgotten; this place is apparently pretty proud of its buffet. And sure, it's a nice-looking buffet, but how could a place like this - one with dark, mature decor and cloth-covered tables - subsist on fixed price $8 meals? As we sat at our table, we heard clues as to the answer: patrons nearby were lamenting the closing of the Metropolitan Bar and Grill, the upscale, trendy restaurant that for 13 brief months occupied this venue, dramatically decorating it with city loans before closing and defaulting. Indian Grill lucked out and found a really nice place to set up its budget-priced shop.

What we found inside were 20-some items, depending on how and what one counts as full items. Peek into the collection of dipping sauces, for instance, and you'll find not just the standard yogurt, plum, and mint chutneys but also hot chili sauce and achar pickles - a nice variety of good, hot ones - all alongside chilled lettuce and green beans that could be used to make a basic salad. Then there were the steam trays, including Chilli Gobi, a "spicy" cooked cauliflower and onion dish, some flat but dumpling-sized pieces of fried dough, and some Pakoras, crispy, deep-fried flour batter mixed with vegetables. Except for the Gobi, which was little hotter than lukewarm and not especially spicy but otherwise fine, the other appetizer items were duds; the fried dough was barely warm, a little greasy, and bland, with the Pakoras so overcooked that the sliced vegetables inside were hard and impossible to identify by taste. Our server brought out a basket of regular Naan bread that was comparatively hot and fresh, but one of the four pieces was seriously burned - a real rarity in our experience. Thankfully, the wonderfully potent achar pickles worked wonders with the other three pieces, and we went back for more.

Overcooking turned out to be one of the themes here; the other was chicken, as all of the meat entrees were poultry, and all were at least a little off. The best of the bunch was the Chicken Keema, ground chicken and peas in a curry sauce, stewed and blended to a softness and mildly spicy flavor that no one would identify specifically as chicken without a sign. Though it wasn't something we could make a meal of - a bit like spooning cooked, spiced hamburger stew onto a plate - it tasted good enough as an accompaniment to other items. Next best by default was the Tandoori Chicken, lemon juice- and yogurt sauce-coated, clay oven-cooked drumsticks and breast meat chunks that only rarely are delicious on buffets; these were surprisingly moist but very light on flavor, and only just barely worth finishing. Chicken Tikka Masala and Chicken Curry, both chunked breast meat in sauces, were equally unpleasant due to dramatic overcooking of the chicken, which eliminated any trace of flavor inside and left the outsides semi-hard. Due to their thinness, the surprisingly thin creamy yogurt and curry sauces - commonly great with rice elsewhere - added little to the Basmati Rice and "Spicy" Chicken Biryani rices here, which both tasted as if they'd been out too long. This wasn't a good thing for a lunch that started at noon; as we finished these dishes, we also noticed the sort of nasal congestion that comes with use of MSG.

Desserts were thankfully a somewhat different story. By contrast with the familiar entrees, which also included a collection of vegetarian dishes, the sweets were surprisingly designed to appeal to customers with adventurous palates; there were no rice pudding, gulab jamun, or other "safe" choices here, which meant that each of the items was at least interesting. Our favorite of the bunch was the Rose Pudding, a warm, thick, watermelon-colored pudding with modest hints of rosewater flavor and nice sliced cashews; we ate two or three servings after bowing out of the entrees. By contrast, the Fruit Halwa was a mushy, carrot-colored and -flavored puddle, while the Mango Pudding was entirely unlike the Rose Pudding, an almost hard yellow block of sweet, dense, and lightly mango-hinted gelatin - fine but not great. Last and probably least was the Faluda, a cold pink rose and milk-based bowl of vermicelli noodles that's often served as a drink overseas; like most of the other items, it was not bad, but not really good, either. Indian Grill scored a couple of points with us for adventurousness here, but most people would place these items - particularly the sweet, slimy Faluda - strictly in the "acquired taste" category.

We wouldn't form a final opinion of a restaurant based solely on the quality of its buffet unless that buffet was its only option, but it suffices to say that Indian Grill didn't thrill us. For Lockport, which isn't exactly bustling with Indian options, it's not a bad start, though we've had similarly priced buffets at Kabab & Curry and Tandoori's in Williamsville with much - and we mean much - better food. Should we find ourselves in the area again, we'll insist upon getting access to the menu and ordering directly from it; hopefully the results will be worthy of an update to this review.

Indian Grill on Urbanspoon

Bamboo China (5268 Main St. at Union, Williamsville, NY 14221, 716.633.5033). It isn't exactly news that one of the only "real" Chinese restaurants in Western New York, Bamboo China, has re-opened significantly down the street from its former location in Williamsville. This actually happened some time after the mid-2008 shuttering of its full-service Main Street dining room, when the owners opted to take over an existing Chinese take-out hidden within the Amherst Quality Market Plaza at Union Road. But now that it's had an opportunity to settle in, we decided to give it a shot and see what was the same and what had changed; sadly, we found that there wasn't much left to recommend the place over numerous similarly anonymous take-out places in the area.

Though the old Bamboo China looked like it hadn't been updated inside in decades, the new Bamboo China steps further backwards; it's the sort of dingy place that looks as if it was literally interrupted in the middle of a renovation. One wall was covered in patching material rather than paint, and we sat at one of several mismatched, greasy tables that literally came to stick to our hot food containers as they cooled during the meal. Chopsticks were absent in favor of plastic silverware, and a sign outdoors touted 99-cent scoops - a buffet-alike concept carried over from the restaurant it took over, in which patrons can pick scoops of different dishes from a steam table for a buck each. We visited at lunch time on a weekend, and the table was closed, but the regular $4.55 to $4.95 lunch combos were available.

We're not going to fully review the place, but it suffices to say that even if the management is the same as at the original Bamboo China, the food quality and menu aren't. The once somewhat novel list of choices, including a handful of Korean dishes, has given way to a completely standard Chinese take out menu with Pad Thai oddly listed as the only representative of another cuisine. Our picks were, thus, standard: a plate of Steamed Dumplings ($4.50) was literally as forgettable and pasty as we've ever tasted, their thick, soggy shells competing with the meat fillings for flavorlessness awards - both tied with gold medals - while the included brown dipping sauce was so watered down that it added nothing but color after dipping. Bamboo China's lunch-sized General Tso's Chicken, another one of our standard test dishes, was only a little better than at the execrable Kenmore/Tonawanda restaurant Peking Garden, with a thin, bright red sauce that had no depth, coating pieces of battered chicken that were more batter than bird - sometimes entirely batter - and then, the poultry was not very good, either. Hot and Sour Soup and Pork Fried Rice included with the General Tso's Chicken were all but entirely missing flavor, there more for sustenance than the enjoyment of eating. Getzville's Sun Garden isn't this bad on its worst day.

To the extent that there was any bright spot in our meal, it was the Happy Family, another regular test dish, which we sample because it offers a Chinese restaurant a higher price point - here, $13 - while challenging it to make the plate worthy of the asking price with the standard array of promised meats and seafood. On a positive note, it didn't lack for meat - primarily pork, chicken, and beef with small, not-so-fresh scallops, nice shrimp, and some artificial crab mixed in - and the vegetables tasted quite good, including broccoli that had been left out of the General Tso's plate, snow peas, boy choy, and baby corn. But there were two bummers: the brown sauce was decent but again on the thin side, and while the promised piece of lobster was there, it was not only small but also hacked up with the shell still on. We've had this dish hundreds of times before, and no one's ever butchered the lobster like that, rendering it semi-inedible. Apart from this issue, we'd put this dish in the "good, not great" category.

Is the smaller Bamboo China worth visiting? To the extent that it's in an area of Main Street that doesn't have a lot of take-out competition for Chinese food, maybe - if you're really price-conscious and not especially concerned about quality - but there's little question that it isn't what it used to be, and frankly it might as well have a totally different name. We wouldn't have any reason to return.

Bamboo China on Urbanspoon

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