Occupying the site of the former Royal Peacock (the restaurant, not an actual bird), India’s Clay Oven continues the decades-long tradition of dishing out subcontinental fare near the intersection of 55th and Arapahoe. With the exception of a brighter paint job and fewer decorative flourishes, the ambience is similar to that of the former tenant, as is the reasonably priced $8.99 lunch buffet offering that friend Lisa and I recently sampled.
A friendly server of few words showed us to our table. After ordering beverages, we began our reconnaissance of the buffet table, which was comfortingly familiar in its offerings. There was the usual assortment of cut-up fresh fruit and salad fixings as well as anticipated hot items like vegetable korma and chicken curry.
Returning to the table after piling our plates high, we found that drinks had arrived. My main knock against many chai beverages is their toothache-inducing sweetness. Lisa’s warming $1.99 mug of milk and tea didn’t overdose on the sugar and would be perfect for those preferring a milder interpretation of this drink. A $2.95 mango lassi differed from most versions by tending less towards the cream and more towards the fruity, a balance Lisa and I appreciated. This drink induced a minor fit of nostalgia for Lisa, evoking the tastes of childhood visits to the Orange Julius at the long-defunct Villa Italia mall.
My first bite was of saag, the staple spinach preparation. This version seemed crisper and brighter in flavor than most, and was a fine foil to the al dente aromatic rice. Stewed meatballs in red curry sauce were dense, and their mild flavor benefited from the addition of one of the pungent chutneys. The peppery condiment featuring plenty of raw onion was a particularly appropriate match to this beef. Lisa was particularly enamored of the samosas, fresh from the fryer and possessing a flaky texture enrobing a hefty filling of potatoes and peas. Best enjoyed as soon as they are placed at the buffet, these turnovers tend to lose their appealing texture over time. Similar advice applies to the fried potatoes placed next to these savory pastries; this take on a tater tot had a crisp crust over a fluffy interior kissed with a surprising and subtle ginger scent.
Chicken makhani, popularly known as butter chicken, is renowned for its rich flavor, attributable to a mix of pureed tomato and, unsurprisingly, butter. The Clay Oven’s version may be the star of the buffet show, spotlighting tender poultry and a luxurious taste reminiscent of a tomato vodka pasta sauce. The tandoori chicken also satisfied, and I could have easily made a meal solely consisting of this chicken dish. This version was tender, moist, flavorful and free of the frightening food coloring that gives many preparations a slightly off-putting fire-engine red gleam.
To end the meal, we both enjoyed a simple rice pudding, lightly spiced with cardamom and cinnamon. Like most offerings at India’s Clay Oven, the dessert didn’t break any new ground, but it also perfectly filled the expectation of what one would get at a lunch buffet. If you’re craving ethnic flavors in a part of town that’s not as restaurant-dense as other neighborhoods, India’s Clay Oven fits the bill.
Clay’s Obscurity Corner Pining for Orange Julius
Now owned by International Dairy Queen, the current incarnation of Orange Julius seems quite different from the establishment of my youth. There appear to be few stand-alone stores, and nowadays you have to go to a Dairy Queen to enjoy the chain’s signature frothy juice-and-sugar beverages. The mustachioed devil with a pitchfork logo is long gone, not over concern regarding Satanism but rather copyright infringement, as this imp apparently too closely resembled Arizona State’s Sparky mascot. However, the fact that raw eggs are no longer available as a drink supplement is probably a good thing, given food safety issues.
India’s Clay Oven 5290 Arapahoe Rd. Boulder 303-444-1626