Review No. 53: Tour of India
2750 Prince Street, #79
29.5 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants
He Said: Good news, naan fans! You won’t have to drive to Little Rock for your Indian food any more. Just two weeks ago, a new restaurant, the “Tour of India,” opened on Prince Street in Conway, and Jones and I decided that two weeks was enough time for them to get their act together and besides, we were tired of waiting, so we popped in to do lunch. They have a lunch buffet here, from 11 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., and then they have sit-down dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. We liked the idea of the buffet, since it allowed us to sample a good number of items and perhaps get an idea of what we might like to order if we came back for dinner sometime. By the way, we discovered afterwards that if you plan to hit the Tour of India for the lunch buffet, you can check online on their Facebook page to get a rundown of what is included in their buffet for the day.
She Said: That’s cool about the FB update on the buffet, Ruud. That’s a stone-cold pro tip (I’m 47; don’t judge my slang). We’d just gotten back from what for me was primarily a food tour through the low countries, and so I was craving something really different from Dutch and Belgian food. So, Tour of India sprang to mind as a lot of our friends are stopping in to try this new restaurant in Conway. But I have to admit, I am not an Indian food expert. My first exposure to it was when I was visiting my friend Gita in St. Paul, and her mother, who had moved from India to the States before Gita was born cooked an extensive meal for the family and then cooked me an entire separate meal because I didn’t eat spicy food. My other experience with it is Amy’s Bowls frozen Indian entrees, which I think are delicious, but I have no idea how authentic they are. But I know what I enjoy, so that’s how I approached this review.
He Said: There is a significant amount of room in the restaurant—three seating areas that we could see, actually. We were ushered into the back area when we arrived. I do suggest you arrive early, since things had filled up pretty well by the time we had finished. Of course, that may ease off a bit after the “newness” wears off.
There isn’t much on the walls—a few small lights and, in the room we were in, one fairly small picture of an elephant as décor. The chairs were rather hard—something I notice more and more the older I get—but otherwise it was comfortable enough. There were two large TV sets where we were sitting, tuned to the golf channel, which made things even a bit soporific, but the music, which sounded like a Bollywood soundtrack, livened things up a bit.
She Said: I liked everything about this lunch experience overall, but the ambiance was the least successful part of the experience. It does feel a bit utilitarian and cold, generally, but the thing that I disliked the most was the plastic covers over the table cloths. That’s a little bit distancing to me. It’s like: “Welcome. Don’t mess up our stuff. Have a nice meal.” But I felt quite comfortable in the restaurant, but this was their weak spot, I thought. I will say that I noticed more than one solo diner here for lunch, and I filed it away as a good place to go if I’m on my own. I also noticed that they allow take-away buffet at lunch, which is also good to know.
He Said: The person who sat us asked us immediately what we would like to drink. I asked if they had iced tea, to which she replied, “Not yet.” So…I guess they haven’t completely gotten everything together. So I asked if they had sparkling water, and was met with a blank stare. So I finally said, “Why don’t you tell me what you have?” Coke products, I was told, and so I ordered a Sprite.
She Said: I had perused the menu before we left the house, so I knew what to ask for. I couldn’t remember the Hindi word, so I just floated, “Mango…?” and our waitress filled in, “Lassi.” That was the ticket! I had made lassi at home, and not well, so I was eager for this traditional Indian subcontinent drink of yogurt, spices and fruit. It’s a little sweet, but not sugary, and was a perfect antidote for the hot spices of some of the dishes I sampled. If I can’t get a mango margarita, a mango lassi is my next choice.
He Said: The buffet included several items, though not more than a dozen, I would say, all labeled with hand-lettered notes with words like Basmati rice, Vegmix pakora, Kaddhi pakora, Chicken biryani, and Gulaab jamun. No great connoisseur of Indian food, I was a bit stymied, since my oft-cited dietary restrictions could only be followed if I knew what on earth I was eating. This problem would not ensue in the evening, since the Tour of India menu (which is available online) describes the various items available. The “Mix Vegetable Pakora,” for instance, which was my first choice, the menu describes as “fresh vegetable fritters made with spinach, onions, potatoes, and cauliflower.” These were very tasty, and I thought I’d eat quite a few of them, but they were kind of sneaky hot, the spicy heat creeping up on me as I ate. The Chicken biryani was also delicious, but also quite hot for my tastes. Looking online at the menu, I learn that biryani is “highly seasoned rice with meat, fish, or vegetable.” It was, I will attest, highly seasoned. As for the kaddhi pakora, the kaddhi is a yellow creamy sauce made with yoghurt, as I understand it. A pakora is a fried snack, a fritter, like the mixed vegetarian one I had. But this kaddhi seemed to be devoid of a pakora, which leads me to suspect it was supposed to be a topping for the mixed vegetable fritters. I used it for the Basmati rice (which is simply a type of rice grown in India). The kaddhi was tasty, and really enhanced the rice to a delicious degree, but even this had something of a kick to it. In addition to these things, there was a special “chef’s creation of the day” on the menu, which was a vegetarian dish with potatoes, peas, and several other vegetables. This was quite tasty as well, but even hotter than the other things I had tried.
Finally, I had an old standby, chicken curry. This turned out to be quite mild and tender, and very enjoyable. It’s probably the sort of thing I’d order were I to go back for dinner, perhaps with the rice and kaddhi as a side. I also opted for one of the desserts on the buffet: that was the item called “gulaab jamun.” This seemed to be a bread-like ball soaked in a sweet syrup. It was quite tasty as an after lunch dessert morsel, though I discovered afterwards on looking the item up that it was composed chiefly of milk solids, traditionally made from freshly curdled milk. For me, of course, this was the last thing I should be eating, since that means it is made essentially of milk fat. But this is the problem with being unfamiliar with the menu items. If you have dietary restrictions, I suggest you check the restaurant’s Facebook page if you are planning to go there for lunch, to find out what you will be eating. At least, if you are not already very familiar with Indian food. But it occurs to me that many Conwegians will not be so familiar, since this is the first Indian restaurant in town. Also, I might suggest that the restaurant could be more helpful to neophytes by putting a little more information on their buffet. Even some kind of indication of which dishes are somewhat hot, which are very hot, and which are especially mild, might help a lot of diners.
She Said: I ate a lot of things you did, Ruud, so thanks for posting all that info. One of the best things I had was the simple, very mild saag paneer, which is the homemade cheese cooked in spinach, which I paired with the basmati rice. I knew about this from Amy’s Bowls, and, just as it should be, this was like the frozen entrée, but way tastier and much fresher, of course. I will definitely have this on my possible entrée list for our dinner-time foray to Tour of India (and there will be one!). In addition to the items you listed, I also tried the lamb korma, which is lamb cooked in almond sauce (yes, please!). This sauce was very rich and tasty, and the meat was tender. This dish, too, was mildly spiced, but flavorful. I personally thought the chicken curry was a little bland, and that’s bizarre, because I’m so British, I think black pepper is an assault on the senses.
I liked the little dessert balls you wrote of, but I also made myself try the carrot pudding. I was trying to be healthy, and I thought, “Well, that’s better for me than the metric ton of Beglian chocolates I recently consumed,” so I put it on my plate. And then it sat there while I ate everything else and procrastinated the carrot dish, but once I took a bite, I was hooked. I was sold. I was a carrot pudding addict right then and then. It was almost fruity! Sweetened but not sugary, pureed but still textured. It was an absolute delight, and, fair warning, Ruud, I will soon be trying to recreate this miracle at home.
But I want to take a little space to write of the total star of the show: The garlic naan, which is an oven-baked flatbread which can be seasoned and/or stuffed. Before I realized that lunch service is only buffet, I had carefully planned my naan selections: You, Ruud, were going to get the potato naan and I was going to get the nut naan, which you can’t eat, and then I was going to eat them both (I limit my bread intake in daily life, so I go ape-crazy for review meals). So, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t have the choice of the entire menu for my naan-apolooza. But then the garlic naan arrived, and I didn’t need air, gravity or hydration. I only needed garlic naan, perfectly crispy AND chewy tender. The wonderful thing about the buffet is that the refilled naan basket of wonderfulness is included in the price of lunch. Knock yourselves out on naan, Conwegians. You won’t be sorry. I could go for dinner and just order three or four kinds of naan and be in heaven.
He Said: This was a buffet, so one would not expect to say much about the service. In fact, though, we got attentive service from the moment we walked in, with our original server’s attending to our drinks. We were asked no fewer than four times by individuals on the staff whether our food was satisfactory and whether we needed anything. So the service was above and beyond what might have been expected.
She Said: I agree, Ruud. Several wait staffers attended us as well as people I perceived as owners or managers who wanted to ensure we were happy with our experience. I also heard one manager talking to a diner behind us with some familiarity, so it seems that as new as Tour of India is, it already has regulars, probably because the service is so attentive.
What We Got and What We Paid: Two drinks and two buffet lunches, including lots of naan, for $29.15.
He Said: For something a little different from all the Chinese and Mexican places in town, this is a welcome new addition to the Conway lunch and, I presume, dinner scene. If you’re not used to Indian food, give this place a try. You might find you like it.
She Said: I’ll be back to try the buffet to sample the delicious riches of Indian food, and I’ll go for dinner to choose specifically from a huge and diverse Indian food menu.
So…He Said and She Said: Go here to try all kinds of delicious and satisfying Indian food, but for the love of Ganesha, do not forget the naan!
Editor's Note: Eat It, Conway is produced by local author Jay Ruud and his wife (poet and novelist Stacey Margaret Jones). The couple has begun an attempt to eat at and review, every restaurant in Conway, Arkansas. The Log Cabin Democrat and thecabin.net are publishing Eat It, Conway with permission from the authors. Visit them online at jayruud.com and on Facebook at Eat It, Conway. In addition to restaurant reviews, Ruud authors movie reviews on the site.