By Father Leo Patalinghug
By chance, I visited a restaurant on my way to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. The day I showed up was its first day ever – a “soft opening” before the grand opening a few weeks later. Several months later, I returned to give this surprise food find a culinary confession.
Situated in a small shopping area with limited parking space, Bay Leaf boasts the typical bold flavors of Indian cuisine. Like many other Indian restaurants, it offers an all-you-can eat lunch buffet ($11.95) and a la carte dining for dinner and weekends.
Unique to this Indian restaurant was the modern feel and design. The mocha- and-burgundy-colored walls, chic lighting, eclectic ceiling ornamentation and a mix of inspirational “food-family-friendship pictured quotes” on the buffet’s main wall gives a less ethnic and more contemporary feel.
The service is consistent. When I first arrived, they were very happy to know my reactions to the food and service. Several months later, the waiters – even for the buffet service – were still very interested in knowing my opinion, not just from a food writer, but every guest. They were helpful to describe ethnic foods, polite and kept a clean restaurant – not always the case elsewhere. One of the chefs even came out to share some insights into his cooking. He explained the buffet menu changes daily, giving great variety for regular diners.
The patrons, many of whom were guests staying at local airport hotels, are already curry lovers or they were local business park employees.
Admittedly, you must crave a level of spice, smokiness and modest levels of heat in your foods to enjoy Bay Leaf. For me, Indian cuisine offers exciting flavors and interesting cooking techniques of “flavoring the oil” and the tandoori approach to baking meats. The vegetable-influenced entrees makes this cuisine healthful, even if filling.
The food tasted like many other Indian cuisine I’ve sampled. It was zesty and flavorful, rich in spices – each bite bringing balanced boldness. My only criticism was that day’s “one-noted” buffet menu – curry on top of curry. There was no fresh mango and cilantro chutney, nor many coconut milk-infused sauces. This was missing. But, these dishes can certainly be ordered a la carte for dinner service and weekends.
I also find that Indian dishes in general, as in the case of Bay Leaf, need more textural variety to stand out as something new and exciting. I crave the fresh crunch of vegetables. Many Indian foods have a texture similar to goulash, delicious and deeply flavored, but texturally mushy. I sometimes crave the crispiness of something fried, which is why I returned for more vegetable pokora, a batter-dipped deep fried eggplant.
Going to new or ethnic restaurants can be exciting, but also intimidating. It brings you out of a comfort zone, and possibly leads to an exotic food find. Eating a more vegetable-based diet, trying new cuisine or just going to a different part of Baltimore for a new restaurant presents challenges, but in a good way. This Lenten season, step outside your comfort zone, but always remain within the realm of grace.
Bay Leaf offers diners variety, spice and a bold “bite” with every bite.
Next month I’ll sample seasonal spring foods. Do you know a restaurant connected to a farmers market, or some place that offers seasonal cooking – farm to table-style foods? Submit entries and suggestions to FrLeo@CatholicReview.org and be automatically entered to win a Grace Before Meals gift.
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