I am not ashamed to say that I know very little about Indian food. This uncommon cuisine is not among the simpler of ethnic fare. One might say I need a bit of guidance when it comes to Indian food, but the lack of guidance I received was central in my disappointment with The Dhaba Café, Tempe’s newly re-opened eatery specializing in Indian street food and small dishes.
Located in India Plaza next to its parent establishment, the restaurant certainly is authentic. Unfortunately, this authenticity replaces any warmth or friendliness that one can expect in a quality restaurant. The food is good — not great by any means — and the poor service warrants specific mention.
Walking into the restaurant, the scent of spices immediately hit me — an encouraging scent, one which speaks of centuries of culinary tradition. I felt as though in a street café in New Delhi; the street café feel is presumably the intended idea. Various curios cover the walls, ranging from large bronze wall art to Indian flags to cricket sticks. Several refrigerated cases hold a plethora of enticing looking desserts, and a television plays continuous Indian dance programs.
In a nutshell, the café initially seems very promising. However, as I mentioned, I was extremely underwhelmed.
The menu would be meaningless to anyone without a deep knowledge of Indian food, and, while I do not have a problem with this fact, I do expect the employees of the restaurant to assist those unfamiliar with its offerings. This assumption was reinforced by the press-release which the café’s parent restaurant, The Dhaba, released upon its offshoot’s re-opening in August.
I imagined that the man behind the counter would be eager to provide suggestions and thus asked for his recommendations.
Surprisingly, though, the man did not answer, and instead briskly handed me a menu. Based on the rough translations of the dishes on the menu, I ordered two. Upon telling the man my choices, he turned and walked into the kitchen. Puzzled, I sat down and waited for any other trace of service.
The food was not bad by any means. The gol gappe — a mixture of lentils and spices in crispy pastry — was actually decent. The dish contained the flavors one associates with Indian cuisine; the blend of intense spices imparted a warmth to the bite-sized discs, and it would make a friendly intro to Indian cuisine for those less-adventurous individuals. The dahi bhalle was not my favorite by virtue of its surprising sweetness, though I imagine this dish of fritters soaked in yogurt is an acquired taste.
My main complaints about the establishment were not regarding the food though. They centered around the fact that the man who had taken my order sat down across the room and glared at me for my entire meal.
I am never one to mention service unless it was particularly bad or extremely good, and The Dhaba Café was an excellent example of the former.
The awful service continued when I wanted to try another item on the menu. I don’t ask for more than the occasional “Do you need anything else?” while dining, but I did not even receive that at The Dhaba Café. After waiting for quite some time, I finally walked up to the man and asked to try the rose sherbet. Again, he seemed quite put-off by my request for food.
The excellent rose sherbet was not a sherbet in the western sense, but a brightly colored drink traditional in some eastern countries. It tasted unsurprisingly floral, but was very refreshing and entirely unique. Truth be told, I would stop in just to have the drink again.
While I sincerely wanted to experience Indian food in an authentic atmosphere, The Dhaba Café and its employees made this task extremely difficult. The restaurant is certainly true to real Indian culinary tradition and has above-average food, but the unwelcoming service alone is enough to keep me away in the future.
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