Last week I was waiting for a train in Grand Central Terminal (fun fact few tourists know: it is not called Grand Central Station!) at noon, and after perusing the offerings, I decided on Cafe Spice Express for lunch as I remembered hearing good things about their University Place outpost when they opened years ago.
I had high hopes as the area around Cafe Spice is about the best smelling place in Grand Central (though perhaps this isn’t saying much), but I found it was a mistake to rely on a heady aroma and bygone raves of a full-restaurant cousin of a to-go joint.
I asked the server which dish was the spiciest and he pointed to the vegetable curry, so I chose that and the chana masala. Both dishes tasted vaguely spicy, but neither had the specific flavor I usually associate with chana masala or vegetable curry. Of course recipes for both dishes vary from place to place (my favorite samosa joint in the city–Pak Punjab on the corner or 3rd St. and 2nd Ave. in Manhattan–has very unusual chana masala that is richly spiced with cloves, for instance), but these tasted of everything and nothing, not to get too philosophical on you. The curry had some weird slimy thready bits in it, that I assumed was cabbage. But it was a strange addition and I was slightly suspicous of it.
Also, and this is the most unforgivable part: the rice was undercooked! Crunchy! I tried to capture this in the photo below, but not sure this is clear. The naked eye could clearly see the still-opaque white centers of the grains. I have been to many mediocre Indian restaurants, but never I have encountered the bedrock of the plate, the rice, severely undercooked. To round out the meal, inexplicably, was a big pile of oxidized iceberg. Yum.
All in all, not a meal I would care to repeat, especially as it was overpriced at a few coins under $10 (naan not included; they automatically put it on your tray as if it comes with the dish, but then they charge you for it! I love naan, but I thought that was a little shifty and so refused it on principle).
There are plenty of dining options in Grand Central, so next time I will resist the aromatic allure of Cafe Spice, and try my luck someplace else.