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Indian Explosion

Austin gains a bounty of healthy menu choices

By Rachel Feit, Fri., Oct. 19, 2012

Chola

2601 S. I-35, Round Rock, 512/244-2222
Mon-Fri., 11am-2pm, 5-10pm;
Sat-Sun., noon-3pm, 5-10pm
www.cholaonline.com

The words Indian restaurant and lunch buffet have become practically synonymous over the past decade, and Chola in Round Rock is no exception. What makes it different is the variety of homestyle dishes you won't find elsewhere.

First of all, Chola's lunch buffet ($11.99 on weekends) is dominated by a chaat station serving tangy chole and crispy, spiced lentil fritters. Bathed in yogurt and sweet tamarind chutney, these make a meal in themselves. But why stop there when there are two dozen other dishes to choose from? The buffet showcases the usual suspects – chicken tikka masala, savory lamb biryani – but the saag paneer is one of the better versions I've tried. Thick and creamy, scented with ginger and turmeric, it's like coming home to a warm fire on a cold day. Then there are the vadai (deep-fried garam flour fritters), the idlis (steamed savory lentil and rice cakes), and the homestyle rava upma (savory semolina pudding studded with cashews, mustard seeds, and vegetables). In India these are often considered breakfast mainstays, but many people find them comforting snacks anytime. The eggplant bathed in Corvette-crimson gravy is a fiery treat, while the earthy okra curry registers lower on the Scoville scale, but is no less tasty. Maybe it's the goat curry, or maybe it's the tandoori fish fillets, but Chola seems to attract a faithful Indian clientele to the lunch buffet.

The buffet disappears at dinner and is replaced by more traditional à la carte service. The menu is far-reaching, though many of the same dishes appear here as on the lunch buffet. Dinner, however, offers a chance at the samosas ($4.99-$5.99), filled dosas ($6.99-$9.99), and uttapam ($7.99-$9.99), which universally taste better cooked to order than in a soggy chafing dish. Chola differentiates itself from other Indian restaurants with a short list of Chinese-influenced dishes like chili-coated sweet and sour cauliflower ($9.99), fried rice ($9.99), and Manchurian chicken ($10.99). These are neither Chinese nor Indian but are instead a happy hybrid, reminding us all that culinary stasis is not always a prerequisite for authenticity. Chola boldly offers a taste of a modern India that celebrates its diversity.

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