5260 Anthony Wayne Dr., Detroit
Lunch or dinner: $5.95-$7.95
Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday
How can it be that Indian-Pakistani-Bangladeshi food has so small a toehold in Detroit? In the suburbs, yes, but wouldn't you think an Indian buffet lunch would be a big hit with all those office toilers in downtown or Midtown? The excellent Sizz'l-n-Spice played that role for a while across from Compuware, and the not-so-good American Masala near Wayne State. But till recently we had just a few Bangladeshi places in Hamtramck to address our need for curries and lassis.
Now there's Temptations, envisioned by its owners as number four in their "first Indian food chain in real sense, aim[ing] to take the Indian cuisine to the nooks and corners all over the United States — in the campuses, the corporate cafeterias, malls, airports etc." Graduates of the U-M's Business School, their first Temptations was in Ypsilanti, followed by cafeteria operations at U-M and EMU.
The Detroit restaurant is wholly oriented to the university crowd — open just 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. If you're in the area at the right time, it's worth a visit if only to marvel at the prices.
Both prices and spices are quite mild at Temptations, as if the target customer were a penurious student who needs to be introduced to the food of the subcontinent gradually (not a bad assumption). An employee suggested that customers could spice it up with the red chili sauce provided, which is indeed fiery. A $5.95 box includes two entrées, rice, naan and a tiny rice pudding. The $7.95 combo is soup or samosa, an entrée, rice, naan and a drink (add $2 if it's lamb or goat that day). A mango lassi is $1.50. I tried hard to spend $20 but was unable to — between myself and a friend.
The place is simple in the extreme, with just two or three meat and two vegetable entrées each day, and cardboard boxes and plasticware to eat from. The walls' purple and red trim and abstract art are a good effort, and the outdoor tables are pleasant in the right weather.
The dishes are surprisingly flavorsome for a steam-table operation (again, if you can hang with mild). Samosas in particular are delectable, the vegetable samosa brilliant with turmeric and a tiny bit sweet, the meat version stuffed with ground lamb and peas, the crust flaky and not greasy. Four cost me $5.
My favorite entrée was chickpeas and spinach, each flavor vibrant, the chickpeas not covered up by the spinach or the many spices. Chicken curry (a deliberately vague title?) is rich, as is tofu curry; both are generous with the size of their respective proteins. The oddly named "butter chicken," which you'll remember does contain butter but looks and tastes of tomato, is tangy with fenugreek.
The only truly spicy dish I was served at Temptations was a chicken kathi roll, wrapped in roti and stuffed with cayenne-heavy Chicken 65.
Chicken soup is a bit sour, but the dab of rice pudding is excellent — exceptionally creamy. The second time I tried it, a hint of mango seemed to have crept in.
Step up, Wayne students: Eschew pizza for once. Faculty and impoverished adjuncts: Don't let another Indian restaurant go down to defeat in Detroit.
The original Ypsi Temptations is at 2876 Washtenaw Ave. (734-434-4709), and has higher prices and a much longer, excellent-looking menu: fried patties of spinach, potatoes and cilantro, rack of lamb, whole pomfret, roasted eggplant, a couple of goat dishes and a good list of "snacky choices." The Ypsi location's hours are 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11:30-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday and 5-9:30 p.m. daily.