Going out for Indian food in the IE can be a frustrating experience. There aren’t as many great Indian places as there should be in an area this large, however godforsaken parts of it may be. (Just kidding, Muscoy!) Another potential pitfall on your way to mango chutney heaven are the prices—sometimes Indian cuisine can be pricey, even if artfully done.
But cheer up, denizens! Cheap and sumptuous grub from the subcontinent awaits you in a strip mall right off the 215. Niti’s Authentic Indian Cuisine offers up a host of entrees, from the classic chicken vindaloo, rogan josh and excellent marinated lamb, to a multitude of vegetarian options. But it’s the $6.95 all-you-can-eat buffet that’ll keep me making the drive down the 215. Imagine a spread with healthy, tasty options and no synthetic “krab” anywhere.
The day I was there followed the immediate aftermath of the whole Richard Gere affair in India, and I fervently hoped I wouldn’t be asked to defend either Gere’s actions or the movie Breathless. Instead I encountered one of the friendliest staff at a restaurant I’ve ever run across. When I failed to notice the raita yogurt dip, the waiter pointed it out to me, explained what was in it, and gave me a quick rundown on the kheer (flavored rice pudding), which by then I was far too bloated to even consider.
One of the main reasons for my tubby gut was the simple yet glorious basmati rice, which forms the core of the lunch buffet. The menu changes daily, but the basmati is a constant—not unlike incompetence from the Bush administration. With just the right consistency, flavor, and mix of peas and carrots, the rice at Niti’s reminds you to appreciate the simpler things in life. The garlic naan bread is also a basic of the lunch menu, but embellished with tiny garlic wedges—crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, the naan is much like the rice, transcending its humble origins as mere bread.
The rest of the buffet menu rotates, and is both varied and delicious. One of the highlights is the Tofu Matter Plate—a wretched name for a simple but elegant dish, consisting of mildly spiced tofu and garbanzo beans with minutely diced onions, tomatoes, and red bell peppers in a nice tomato sauce. Another hit is the Aloo Gobi—really just cauliflower and potatoes cooked in some spices and herbs, however the ingredients again surmount their humble beginnings and become a damn fine veggie entrée.
All is not lost for the carnivore set, either. There’s at least one meat dish daily, usually chicken, to liven up the rest of the menu. On this day, it was the spicy chicken curry, more or less boneless in a sauce tangy enough to make me want to try one of the Indian beers, the Karma Special brew. However, drinking a giant-ass beer with the words “Karma Special” before I headed out for a 30-minute freeway drive home didn’t sound like the brightest plan, so I stuck to my iced tea. I know—boring as hell, and yet . . . probably the right move. After all, you gotta live to scarf another day.
Niti’s Authentic Indian Cuisine, 39400 Murrieta Hot Springs Rd., Unit 108, Murrieta, (951) 698-2230; www.nitisfood.com. Lunch: Mon.-Sat., 11a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Mon.-Sat., 5:30-9:30 p.m.