Service, food, or atmosphere? That is the question.
Most national restaurant surveys surprisingly list “service” as the customer’s most valued facet of dining out.
Of course, it probably depends on what type of dining experience and concept one is searching for when choosing a restaurant. Someone who is interested in a theme-heavy national chain, something like Rainforest Café, is probably interested in atmosphere most. If one is dining in a barbeque joint, atmosphere probably doesn’t even come in third. For fast food I would imagine it’s all about service— getting food quickly and moving on.
I am not your typical restaurant customer. For me, it’s all about the food. Service comes in second, but I don’t require overly solicitous service. For me, as long as a server isn’t putting his or her fingers around the lip of my glass, my food arrives in an efficient manner, and no one awkwardly hovers at my table I’m usually good to go.
Now, as a restaurant owner, my staff and I strive to excel in all three areas. But as a customer in other people’s restaurants, it’s about the food.
Atmosphere is a very distant third when I am dining out. I love joints. A laid-back, hole-in-the-wall restaurant with pretty good service and really good food is what I am all about.
My hometown of Hattiesburg has a new Indian restaurant. The food is great, the atmosphere is O.K., and the service is a work in progress.
I have eaten in Indian restaurants all over Europe and the United States, and the food offerings I have received on my four visits to Indian Delight have been as good as any I have eaten. Until now, I was driving to Jackson, to Spice Avenue— an excellent restaurant, and probably one of my top three in Jackson— for Indian cuisine.
What makes Indian Delight a good restaurant to me is the food. The chef was brought over from India and his cuisine is spot on. What keeps me returning to Indian Delight is a guy named Bisham Malkani.
Malkani, a long-time veteran of the restaurant business was hired to consult and advise during the opening of the restaurant by Indian Delight’s owner, Steve Arora. The wisest move Arora, a veteran of the hotel business, did was to 1.) Open an Indian restaurant in Hattiesburg where there was a void in the market. 2.) Know that it’s best to hire someone who knows the business. As my friend Ken always says, “If you want to drive to Dallas, it’s best to ride with someone who’s been to Dallas before.”
Malkani served as a consultant to the owners before they opened. A few days before the opening date, his mother passed away and he had to travel back to India. “Don’t open until I return,” he instructed the owners. In the meantime they opened.
I didn’t visit during the initial weeks, but I heard horror stories. As soon as Malkani returned from India, he made wholesale changes in the front and back of the house, hired a chef from India, began serving tables himself, and righted the ship.
A 25-year veteran of the food business, Malkani is knowledgeable and overly hospitable. He’s the type person that makes one want to return to an establishment.
My second visit was as good as the first, and a third visit (this time with friends) was spot on. Indian Delight has a buffet at lunch, but don’t enjoy buffets. The ala carte menu is extensive and Malkani is very knowledgeable about the offerings and the origin of each dish. The Murg Makhani (Butter Chicken at most Indian restaurants) is as good as I’ve had it anywhere. The naan is outstanding, but the highlight of the menu for me is an appetizer Chloe Bhatura which is a small copper pot of garbanzo beans, tomatoes, garlic, Indian spices and it is served with “fluffy puffed bread” which looks like naan, but tastes like a savory beignet. Excellent.
Indian Delight is a prime example of a food-first restaurant for me. The atmosphere is one-step removed from the Mexican restaurant that was housed there prior to Indian Delight’s arrival, and still feels a little more Mexican than Indian. The service my first few visits—when Malkani was attending to our table— was flawless. We have been twice since they are trying to turnover the floor to the new staff and it’s been spotty.
I am not your typical restaurant customer. I am about food quality first and foremost. As long as Indian Delight can keep the chef they brought in, I’ll be willing to weather the bumps in service until the staff is trained. In the meantime, I’ll count my blessings that my hometown has a talented chef from India and hope they keep the fluffy puffed bread coming.
Sesame-Soy Cabbage Stir Fry
1/4 cup peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 Tbl minced fresh ginger
1 Tbl minced garlic
1/4 tsp crushed red chili flakes
1/2 cup red onion, peeled and julienne
3/4 cup carrot, julienne
3/4 cup red bell pepper julienne
1 head bok choy cut leaves crosswise into 1/2” thick slices (approx 5-6 cups cut)
6 green onions, trimmed, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups fresh snow peas
1/2 head Napa cabbage, leaves cut crosswise into 1-inch-wide strips (about 3 – 4 cups cut)
2/3 cup good-quality chicken stock or broth or vegetable broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
1Tbl cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water
2 Tbl toasted sesame seeds
Heat a large wok over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil. When the oil is hot, add the ginger, garlic, and chili flakes and stir-fry just until they are aromatic, about 30 seconds. Scoop out the aromatics and set them aside.
Add the remaining oil to the wok. Turn the heat up to high. When the oil is hot, add the julienne carrots, red peppers and red onion pieces and stir-fry until they turn glossy and bright, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the bok choy. Stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes more.
Add the scallion pieces and snow peas. Continue stir-frying until they are bright green and glossy, 1 to 2 minutes more.
Add the Napa cabbage along with about 1/3 cup of the hot stock and the reserved aromatics. Continue stir-frying until the vegetables are all tender-crisp, about 2 minutes more. Add the remaining stock, soy sauce, and cornstarch mixture and stir-fry until the vegetables all look lightly glazed with sauce, about 1 minute more.
Transfer the stir-fried vegetables to a heated serving dish. Garnish toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.
Yield: 8-10 servings