Ottawa Citizen- 2009

Ottawa CitizenIndian lunch buffet a delicious bargain

By Anne DesBrisay , The Ottawa Citizen
September 9, 2009   Ishina Owners

Chef Manpreet Chhatwal and Nippi Chhatwal.
Photograph by: Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen

I received a dear letter about this place a few months ago, which I filed and forgot about.

But two weeks ago, while shopping for school/college supplies with the boys, I was detoured around a disabled tractor-trailer and found myself in front of an orange sign with a name that sounded familiar. Ishina, fast food, it said.

It was 1:30 in the afternoon and we were lunchless. So we went in, we ate, and now were regulars, prepared to write dear letters about the place.

It helps to know its here, but once you know, youre in luck. Why? Because the north Indian food is very good, the meal is fast, the price is right and the service is gracious.

Though its no looker. Ishina is a clean, bright, utilitarian room in an industrial park behind Richmond Road in Bells Corners. The ceiling is warehouse rafters and beams, the floor is black and white linoleum. Long wispy curtains let in some light and manage to block the bleak view. The dozen or so tables are covered with red and yellow tablecloths and a jaunty canopy covers the buffet table.

But as soon as you enter Ishina, you smell all those great Cs cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, chilies. And you are greeted instantly by other great Cs, the family Chhatwal chef Manpreet (Baby) and Parminder (Nippi) and daughters Ishleen and Gina (hence, Ishina).

  They know the regulars by name and the regulars know them. Hows your mother doing? Do you want the usual to drink?The regulars tend to walk over in groups guys, mostly, clad in casual gear who talk about things like RAM speed.The daily lunch buffet is set out in steam table trays, handsomely garnished and oft replenished. We start with soup (daal one day, tomato and coriander another, both complex, both with some heat) and a soothing kachumber salad of tomatoes, cucumber, onion and coriander.
Steaming tandoori naan arrives to our table while were working our way through the line of stews. Beef korma, butter chicken, tandoori chicken, Jeera rice.

There are always two meatless dishes usually a curry of mixed vegetables inspired by whatever fresh produce is available beans, zucchini, cauliflower, cabbage and always a spread based on paneer (fresh cheese). Homemade pickles are more sour than searing and yogurt raita with mint is all soothing.

This is Indian food that takes no shortcuts and it eats accordingly. It is all very good, the meats tender, the chicken juicy, the sauces full flavoured, shot with ginger, garlic, onion and all those delicious spices that murmur through.

If you want them to shout, you will notice the basket of fresh green chilies beside the bowl of raita.

Desserts include a platter of fresh fruit, and the ber-sweet gulab jamun fried balls of dough paddling in a rosewater-scented sugar syrup. And sometimes there is chocolate mousse, which looks suspiciously icky, but is in fact quite delicious.

It took us 23 minutes to lunch at Ishina. The gents beside me clocked in at seven. Back to their computers.

The price: The daily lunch buffet is $9.99, plus tax and tip.

Ishina may be short on style, but its long on flavour and thoughtfulness. That computes.

Anne DesBrisay is the author of Capital Dining: A Guide for Dining out in Canadas Capital. Her website is capitaldining.ca.

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