IF YOU GO
Where: Sitar, 200 Market St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10:30 Saturday-Sunday.
Price range: $6.95-$31.95 (Special Combination); $8.99 lunch buffet.
Alcohol: Beer and wine.
Finally, we have an Indian restaurant downtown. For several years, there were three within a couple of miles of each other on Lee Highway. In fact, I ate lunch almost weekly at the old Sitar location near Sportsman’s Warehouse for almost five years.
The Lee Highway location closed recently, and a new Sitar opened last month on Market Street in the old Brock Candyland store near the Tennessee Aquarium. I’ve been three times since it reopened.
You could say I’m fond of the food. I enjoy the bold flavors that define Indian cuisine and the fact that I get to sample a variety of dishes with differing tastes and textures thanks to the lunch buffet. Every bite offers something new.
The lunch buffet features steamed and turmeric-infused rice, six to eight entrees, chicken tandoori, naan bread and either pakoras (mixed vegetable fritters) or samosas (a crispy turnover filled with spiced potatoes and peas).
Other selections include a simple salad, Gulab Jamun (deep-fried cheese balls dipped in syrup), rice pudding and chutneys. The chutneys can be used to flavor the dishes to your own preference. I prefer the onion, mint and spicy red garlic-based varieties.
The entree selections range from Curry Chicken to Saag Paneer (spinach and homemade Indian cheese) to Vegetable Korma (mixed vegetables cooked in yogurt and a spicy cream sauce) to Dal Makhani, made with lentils sautéed in ginger, onion, garlic and tomato. There are always a couple of chicken and vegetarian choices and occasionally a lamb dish or two.
The dinner menu features all of these dishes and more. One thing you will find is that dishes are often a little milder on the buffet to appeal to a wider range of palates. I’ll often hear people who have not tried Indian food say they don’t like spicy foods. They usually mean spicy hot. You can get it that way certainly, but not all dishes are hot.
Because it is hard for me to choose a favorite dish, the Special Combination dinner is a good choice when ordering off the menu (and if you are dining with someone). It includes papadum, mulligatawny soup, Seekh Kebab, Chicken Tikka, Lamb Rogan Josh, Vegetable Korma, basmati rice and naan bread. It is way more food than two people can, or should, eat in one sitting, so it makes for a good late breakfast or lunch the next day.
The new location is smaller than the old one, but the old one had an additional room for large parties. Longtime regulars will notice that the tables are closer together than they were in the old space, but I didn’t find it to be an issue. It is a clean, comfortable space.
When it is crowded during the lunch rush, the buffet area can get a little congested.
On multiple visits for lunch, we were greeted by a waiter at the door and immediately shown to a table. Drink orders were taken, and we were instructed to head to the buffet. The drinks were waiting for us when we returned, and they were topped off in a timely manner.
Along with a new location, Sitar has a new staff, and regulars might notice that some dishes are prepared a little differently than in the past. India is a huge country with an array of cuisines that vary from region to region and chef to chef, so for me, it’s part of the adventure. I like some dishes better than others. For first-time visitors, this will obviously not be an issue.
If you’ve never tried Indian food, the buffet at Sitar is a good place to sample something completely new and wonderful.
Now fans of Indian food on this side of Missionary Ridge can be happy to have a place to get their fix.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...