Indian Pavilion has been down in the basement of 222 Calder Alley in State College for almost as long as I can remember. Many years ago it was a Chinese restaurant called Canton and in the late 80′s the place to go for the best vegetarian Indian cuisine was Vegetarian Delight at 114 Hetzel St.
Sadly I can’t dine at nor would reviewing vegetarian restaurants that are only memories help anyone very much. Indian Pavilion is closed Mondays also from 2:30 – 5:00 on other days. It is a popular spot for the downtown working crowd since its lunch buffet is hot and ready to go by 11:30.
I accidentally arrived about 5 minutes before lunch and was not the first to be seated. The lunch buffet has a big following and by the time it was 11:30, 5 of the 20 tables in the main dining area were already seated and waiting for the Mattar Mushrooms to be brought out.
There is more seating in the separate room where they set up the 9 large copper lunch buffet pots but I am not certain it is used during lunch. A smaller salad and dessert bar is also set up in that room. It gets to be very busy rather quickly.
Typically 2 of the main dishes served are not vegetarian at the lunch buffet and they are clearly marked. They are also usually the last 2 pots on the buffet line. The lacto-vegetarian dishes take up most of the other pots (Basmati Rice with peas being the only vegan dish at lunch) and are labeled by name of the dish. I sampled each and along with my Naan that had been served directly to my table, just a sample of each was a lunchtime feast.
The rice was warm and fluffy, the two 1/4 wedges of naan were warm and quite nice. The Vegetable Pakoras (like Indian Hush Puppies) tasted mostly of onion and were crispy. The Dahi Vada were cold fluffy lentil dumplings in a tangy yogurt sauce. The black lentil Daal Makkhani was very mildly spiced. The Vegetable Fritters were soft and hot and a base of potato and cauliflower in a mild/medium spiced creamy red sauce. The Mattar Mushrooms (peas and mushrooms) were very warm in temperature in a medium spiced curry sauce with cooked onions.
Since it’s a buffet you won’t easily be able to carry everything but I warn you against leaving your plate to return for something you forgot, it might be taken away with the assumption your were finished with it. At the cold/fresh/dessert bar you will find a Hot Sauce that is more like a thin watered down ketchup, Mint Chutney that is yogurt based and has garlic in it, Tamarind Chutney that is like a sweet and sour sauce and a Raita which is also yogurt based and just a little too salty.
The staff and manager, Sohan Dadra, were very attentive to my needs. My water glass was frequently refilled and I was offered more naan when my bread basket was empty. I enjoyed the meal to recorded music of people singing traditional Indian songs.
As I took photos of the lovely wall hangings, it was picked up on that I was reviewing the place. Mr. Dadra answered every question I had and assured me that meals in the evening can easily be made vegan just by asking that milk and cream be left out. He is very eager to please and gave me a complicated description of how wheel chair accessibility required patrons to enter from the opposite side of the building at that it would be best to call first to make sure the florist has not blocked the way from the elevator that needs to be accessed.
As Indian food goes, the lunch buffet caters to the central Pennsylvania palette. It is very mildly spiced, a bit over-processed and very little fresh food to be had. What is great is that it is clear what it and isn’t vegetarian, the flavors are varied, ingredients seasonal, and temperatures just right. This would be a great place to take anyone who wasn’t sure if they liked Indian food, very family friendly with mango flavored beverages and desserts like Keer and Halava. There is a clear section on the evening menu for vegetarian dishes and I would encourage maybe even vegans to go since they are so open to modifying their recipes to suit, the manager was who made mention of vegan modifications. A clear thing to note is that they not only serve meat products, there are many lamb dishes on the menu.