Generally, I’m not fond of buffets. Food loses its freshness, and the choices are the kitchen’s rather than my own. But judging by the crowd at Temptations’ lunch buffet, mine is a minority opinion. Indians, Africans, women at get-togethers, and construction workers joined me in filling plates from the ample choices–salads, meat and vegetarian entrees, side dishes, and even desserts. The food, while not spectacular, was satisfying–the tandoori chicken and split pea dal being the highlights–and the $8.95 price was a great value. (It’s $10.95 on weekends, with more choices.)

Temptations looks its best at lunch, when natural light streaming in the front windows gives the room a cheery aspect. After sundown, its dark, open ceiling, mustard-colored concrete floor, and forlorn, ill-kept entry lounge can make the place feel like a rec room decorated on a budget. Still, I ate most of my meals there at dinner, when the served menu provides a better test of the kitchen’s range.

One evening, after a round of complimentary crispy pappadums and zesty chutneys, we started with a trio of vegetarian appetizers–samosas stuffed with peas and potatoes; subz-e-ajab, a fried, spiced potato and spinach patty with a sweet and sour sauce; and pacchimira bhaji, a deep-fried chile stuffed with spiced potatoes and served with mango chutney. All of these, even the chile, struck us as bland and uninteresting, and the subz-e-ajab’s sauce was a dead ringer for Heinz 57, if not the actual condiment. However, laccha, a salad of slivered red onion tossed with chiles, lemon juice, and seasonings, was utterly delicious in its simplicity. It also highlighted our seekh kebab, spiced minced-lamb skewers, in a way the accompanying tomato sauce did not. That same buttery sauce, however, was a real enhancement to the bharwan aloo Firdausi, a first-rate vegetarian entree of whole potatoes stuffed with nuts, spices, and paneer (fresh cheese). We also relished malai kofta, paneer dumplings in a decadent cashew and almond sauce. Nawabi champen, grilled rack of lamb, had spent too long in its marinade but still proved tender and tasty. Lamb vindaloo, though ordered hot, was only pleasantly spicy, with succulent meat and chunks of potato. The evening’s only disappointing entree was the jalpari (tandoori pomfret), where the preparation was overshadowed by the fish’s age.

With so many appetizers and entrees, we hardly needed dessert, but I tried the gulab jamun, orbs of sweetened milk and flour fried and soaked in a cardamom-laced syrup. I’ve always doted on sugar-drenched fried dough, but no one else at the table thought it was worth the calories.

Another evening we had dinner with a couple of enthusiastic Indian food aficionados, and again ordered three appetizers. We all agreed that the vegetable Manchurian–fried cauliflower tossed with a gingery, garlicky hot sauce–was good, though we also agreed we’d had better versions elsewhere. The meat samosas, filled with ground lamb and peas, were a significant improvement over the vegetarian version, despite the recurring drizzle of catsup. Almost tasteless, the “special crabcake” seemed all filler and little seafood, and certainly not special.

To accompany our entrees we once more ordered the laccha onion salad, along with achar (salty, pungent pickles) and a plethora of warm flatbreads–butter naan, onion kulcha, garlic and basil naan, and kheema (lamb-stuffed) naan–torn pieces of which we subsequently used to pick up bits of meat and shrimp from our entree bowls.

Sauced in a fiery red gravy, kolhpuri dishes often rival vindaloo ones for searing heat, but this evening’s chicken version, though complex and savory, was only mildly hot, a plus or minus depending on one’s preference. The mutton sukha, a goat curry, was rich and dark and delicious, as was the lamb rogan josh, another aromatic curry enriched with yogurt. Shrimp kovalam, though tart, laced with curry leaves, and finished with coconut milk, somehow managed to linger only dully on the tongue. Murg banjara, chicken legs marinated in spiced yogurt and grilled, wasn’t nearly as tasty as the lunch buffet’s tandoori chicken, and its “spicy tomato-mint sauce” lacked both pungency and herbal flavor.

At the buffet lunch the waitresses, with little to do but bring drinks and clear plates, were warm and amiable. Two male waiters in the evening were unfriendly but efficient, though one, rather than walk around the table, reached clear across it and over the shoulders of my companions to clear my place setting. And both evenings we experienced a long, inexplicable gap between appetizers and entrees that I attributed to the kitchen. (On neither night was business hopping.)

Although there is much to relish at Temptations, all the elements of a good restaurant–decor, condition of facilities, service, food–could use a bit of tweaking at the hand of an attentive manager or owner. Till then, Temptations will remain a fine place for a quick buffet lunch or takeout dinner, but less pleasing for an evening out.


2876 Washtenaw Ave., Ypsilanti


Daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Lunch buffet 11 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. weekends. Dinner served 5:30-10 p.m.

Lunch buffet: weekdays, $8.95, weekends, $10.95. Dinner: appetizers, $3.45-$6.95, soups and salads, $3.45, sides and breads, $1.45-$2.45, entrees, $9.95-$19.95, desserts, $1.95-$4.95.

Wheelchair friendly