Aurora's Havana Street is awash with some of the most diverse ethnic cuisine in the Denver metro area; the cultural landscape is primed with every kind experience, from fine-ish dining to lovable dives to mom and pop eateries from almost every nationality and culture: Ethiopian, Vietnamese pho, dollar-a-scoop Chinese, Mexican seafood, Cuban bakeries, and barbecue startup trucks. This stretch of semi-urban street makes for some colorful dining, so I'll be giving you my fitty-cent tour every week, complete with all the color, flavor and commentary of my ‘hood.
My usual and normal expectations of dining at an Indian food buffet are simple: a reasonably hygienic environment, borderline adequate service, and basic Indian dishes served at proper temperatures. And saag paneer that is at the very least worth spooning onto a plate, because let's be real, if any kind of Indian restaurant, buffet or otherwise, cannot manage to serve an acceptable saag paneer then there's really no point in bothering to taste anything else on the menu. Walking into Bengal Buffet, just off the triangle formed by Havana, Parker Road and Yale Avenue, was not the highlight of my week, because the place is a hot mess minus the hot. From the disheveled dining room to the desiccated food, the distracted service and the dirty tables, my anticipated Indian buffet lunch should have been all sunshine and saag paneer, but ended up being me making like hay and bailing.
Bengal Buffet is located in an unassertive strip mall behind a Smoker Friendly. At 6 p.m. on a Saturday I expected this restaurant to be doing its share of weekend dinner activity, but the vast, ornate dining room was uninhabited. I was swiftly greeted by a lone hostess, and then summarily dismissed after being told the buffet price was $10.99 plus tax. The only other group dining in the place was a family collaborating on a wedding catering thing at a table next to the buffet, while their free-range child marched around the buffet table banging lids and poking around in the dishes. As I sat myself I noticed the tables toward the front of the room were smeared with food and speckled with plaster from a falling spot in the ceiling, and there was a bucket of filthy water on the floor next to my booth.
I served myself at the small buffet table, dodging the kid clanging lids (and avoiding the biryani she shoved her fingers into). Every hot entrée seemed less impressive than the last one, with pans of rice so dry the tops were crispy and bony curry beef hunks soaking in warm, greasy sauce. The tandoor chicken pieces were undersized and dehydrated, the vegetable pakora were dry husks and the naan was dead and awaiting burial. It was obvious at this point that the buffet offerings were nowhere near fresh, but it was concerning that the holding temperatures were low and the food was lukewarm right off the table.
The modest cold bar area was thankfully unmolested by kiddie digits, but was no more inspiring than the hot bar, with a pan of chopped lettuce swimming in water, a near-empty pan of gulab jamun (those spongy little balls soaking in syrup) and some watery, un-garnished kheer. I took a few spoonfuls of everything to try, and by the time I made it to the saddest saag paneer ever, I threw down the napkin in defeat. Saag paneer is my baseline with Indian buffets, and Bengal’s was a mess of stringy, under-seasoned spinach dotted with parched, russet cheese chunks.
Non-existent service, a dirty, shabby dining room, and poorly-prepared, badly-held food means that this restaurant really needs to get it together. My best advice is to get the building properly repaired and the dining area cleaned up, pay closer attention to the food preparation, serving temps and presentation, and hire attentive staff, otherwise catering might be all Bengal Buffet ends up doing.