Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More Sitting (Bangla Garden; 29-14 36th Avenue)

We were surprised to discover that this cabbie pit stop, an Indian buffet in the Little Dhaka section of Astoria on 36th Avenue, has a website. The photo is somewhat misleading: the bunch of dudes lounging at a table, looking as though they are in no particular hurry, with the TV playing the Bengali station from Canada in the background (it featured peaceful chanting and singing while we ate), seems very representative. The two women superimposed in the corners -- not so much. And it was not exactly what we would call a "party hall," though we did not investigate the basement. (A sign pointed down a narrow, precipitous stairway: "More Sitting.")

When we arrived at Bangla Garden, it was hardly a party. In fact the restaurant was hardly populated at all, and no one seemed to be working there. Eventually we had to take the initiative to just grab a plate and start piling on food from the buffet urns, which were lined up along the front window. (A man in a baseball cap, who had been sitting at a table watching the chanting, then quickly confirmed that we were doing the right thing, gesturing that we should help ourselves and sit anywhere.) On the buffet, the usual suspects were available: yellow dal, aloo saag, a mixture of green beans and okra, chicken tikka, what looked like chicken makhani, a lamb curry and a goat curry (Why is goat meat so bony? Goats have no more bones than sheep, right?). A side table also had some unappetizing salad (99 percent iceberg lettuce), what may have been rice pudding, and a pitcher of tea.

It didn't look especially appetizing, and it certainly wasn't Jackson Heights caliber, but it was quite good, when we finally settled in to eat. The spinach selections in particular were flavorful, though we wish the buffet had naan available to help us soak up the last of the sauces in the saag (and other) dishes. The most frequent complaint with Indian food is that it's oily and heavy; this was heavy enough to fill us up but skipped the layer of orange grease that came with our last order of Astoria Indian food.

For the apparent number of people from Bangladesh and India that now live in Astoria, you'd think that the neighborhood would boast better cuisine from the region -- and you would be wrong. Other place in the neighborhood are known to us as "the really bad place," "the place I will go to if pressed," etc. Bangla Garden is, if nothing else, a relief.

Price: Under $10 for all you can eat. You do the math.
Will we go again? It's among the only reasonable Indian food options in the hood. Do we have much of a choice?

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