It's hardly a recent phenomenon, but Munch was noticing recently that Squirrel Hill has been transformed, over the years, into a veritable Epcot Center, minus the overpriced entrance fee and the creepy, anthropomorphic vermin.
Within the square mile or so that comprises the business district, you can find food from nearly every continent (Munch is still waiting for the kosher deli to start serving Antarctic seal foie gras). There is a Japanese bakery, a Taiwanese joint, an Israeli place, a Thai tapas place and of course, Mineo's and Aiello's -- the Hatfields and McCoys of Pittsburgh pizza. There's heart-clogging ice cream parlors and penitential frozen yogurt. And there's enough coffee shops to make a hipster's head spin.
Earlier this week, as Munch was happily chowing down on a slice at Aiello's, Munch noticed a "just open" sign strung across a new Indian restaurant, Coriander, which sits, appropriately, between a Persian rug shop and an African hair-braiding salon. It replaced Kazanksky's Deli, a longtime favorite among Squirrel Hill-ers. Coriander had a medium-size space but big shoes to fill.
A little Interweb searching revealed that fellow foodies were raving about it. On Yelp, it was praised for serving cuisine from Goa, a tiny state that sits on the western coast of India.
Munch brought along Enthusiastic Eating Friend of Munch, Medical School Friend of Munch and Cilantro-Hating Friend of Munch, who claims to have a genetic disposition against cilantro, whose seed is coriander.
Naturally, C-HFOM was weary. Would there be forests of towering trees of the herbs? Would the waiter's dress be woven from its stems? What if they demanded payment in cilantro?
None of the above was true. The dining room was sleek, if not a little dark, and Munch and friends of Munch crammed cozily into a booth. On a nearby flat-screen television, unusually provocative Bollywood music videos flashed. "Isn't it a little early for that kind of thing?" wondered MSFOM.
It took a while to catch the attention of a waiter. MSFOM and EEFOM ordered the lunch buffet, while Munch and C-HFOM opted to order from the menu. Munch got a Goan dish, Xacuti (pronounced like "Jacuzzi," but with a T) with lamb ($10.99) and C-HFOM got the Paneer Kadai ($8.99).
To go with our unpronounceable dishes, we ordered intriguing drinks. MSFOM got the masala milk, ($2.99), C-HFOM got the Nimbu Soda ($1.99) and Munch settled on the buttermilk ($2.99). It was a hefty wait for the drinks, about 15 minutes, but it was well worth it. The Masala Milk, a creamy combination of milk and tea, was heavenly, and the Nimbu Soda, a fresh-made lemonade seasoned with cumin, was bizarre but delicious. The buttermilk, which contained seasonings and cilantro, was unlike anything Munch had ever tasted before.
After drinks came a wait. A very, very long wait. Munch estimates it was another 10 minutes before Munch and C-HFOM were finally served and by that time EEFOM was already on round two at the buffet, which contained more than a dozen entrees in addition to naan (Indian flatbread) and soup. MSFOM complained that by 1:30 or so, the buffet looked a little "picked over."
The Xacuti was certainly tasty, a lamb stew with a creamy tomato base and a hint of something tart, reminiscent of raisins. Munch spooned a side order of Raita ($1.95), a thin, seasoned, yogurt jam-packed with thick chunks of cucumber and tomato, on top. C-HFOM squelched a shriek as her dish came out -- topped with the dreaded herb of death, but commented that the paneer -- Indian cheese -- was delicious. But it wasn't spicy enough though she had ordered an "8," she added.
Then came another wait, and another half-dozen Bollywood videos, for the check. Munch asked twice, as the C-HFOM' s parking meter was running low, and finally, after asking a third time, Munch was told that we were supposed to pay at the register.
Sure, the food was delicious, but this probably isn't a place you want to go if you're in any sort of hurry. To say that the service is slow is a vast understatement. Glacial might be more like it. But the buffet, a steal at $6.99, is well worth it.