What is it about Indian restaurants in Lake Mary? They just can’t seem to do as well as their counterparts farther south. First it was a Lake Mary outpost of Memories of India, the Bay Hill Plaza restaurant that has won numerous Foodie Awards for its fine food. But when it opened another restaurant to the north, it was as if there were no communication between the two, especially in the basics of preparing Indian cuisine.
Now there’s Darbar, a restaurant that serves many recognizable Indian dishes that manage to be absolutely devoid of any characteristic spicing of flavors usually associated with that vibrant cuisine.
Longtimers will recognize the name Darbar as that of one of the area’s earliest Indian restaurants, which was located in the Marketplace on Dr. Phillips Boulevard, long before there was a Restaurant Row. (The owners of that Darbar also opened an ill-fated stand in the food court at Florida Mall.) There is no indication that the Lake Mary Darbar is associated with the one from long ago. If it were, the food -- and the overall experience -- might be better.
I met a Lake Mary friend for a lunch visit, and the young man who seated us asked if we would be having the buffet. But he asked it in such as way as to make it sound less like a question and more like a declaration -- Of course you’re having the buffet. And there was a look of exasperation on his face when I asked if I could see the menu.
Ultimately, we did opt for the buffet after taking a look at the offerings, but while the food looked right, the flavors just weren’t there.
At the beginning of the buffet line was a large rice cooker filled with basmati rice. In front of it was a scoop the size of which you’d normally find in an industrial ice maker or in a grain bin at a feed store. Next to that was was a noodle dish that was more Chinese in nature than Indian. (China had a large influence on India’s food, but this dish was less derivative than it was direct.)
A couple of chafing dishes down was a dal offering that seemed to be a soup, although no bowls were provided. The lamb curry was a tray of gravy with no meat in it. It was a while before more lamb was brought out, and when I finally had a taste I could detect nothing remotely currylike in the taste.
The dining room is tidy, but the decor is spartan and the lighting makes it look dingy.
At the end of the buffet table was a basket of pappadam, the thin, crackerlike wafers that are often offered as complimentary nibbles upon seating, just as chips and salsa are proffered in Tex-Mexeries. A young girl was loading up her plate with the pappadam and helping herself to one of the chutneys. She turned to me and my friend and said, “This is what you want; these are the best thing here.”
Oh, how right she was.
Darbar Indian Cuisine is at 3821 Lake Emma Road, Lake Mary (in the KMart Plaza, around the corner near the Burger King). It is open for lunch Monday through Saturday, brunch on Sunday and dinner daily. Here’s a link to mydarbar.com. The phone number is 407-444-2722.