Sometimes, hidden restaurants need to remain hidden, left to fester deep within the shadows of the unseen and as far away from the unwitting restaurant-going public (and those given to benighted crowd-sourced posts) as possible. "Hope makes a good breakfast," goes the saying, "but a bad supper."
My preamble is aimed at Butter Chicken, the newish Indian restaurant with hoary soul and listless mien situated in an equally hoary and listless strip of Winter Park. A diamond in the rough this is not, though with a decor whose design cues seemed pilfered from my aunt's living room in Birmingham, England, circa 1981, I had hopes. No, it's dour from top to bottom, and the dismal and dispiriting dishes – delivered to us by novice servers blissfully ignorant of Indian cuisine in general – paid even greater homage to the pervading Thatcherian austerity of that time.
"Fresh," "vibrant," "rich" and "decadent" were not words that sprung to mind when a somber plate of samosa chaat ($6.98) arrived at our table. Crusts on the quartered veg-filled pastries were either chewy or crackling hard, likely because the samosas were old, or were frozen, or both. Suffocating them with a marauding layer of chickpeas and a heavy-handed goop of yogurt and tamarind sauce in an effort to make them palatable was about the only sign of creativity exhibited by the kitchen.
After sampling boneless chunks of chewy, savorless lamb kebab ($9.98) in a lifeless tossing of onions and peppers, our discussion grew animated, but it didn't take long for us to note the disproportionate decibel level of our voices compared to the odd ambient acoustics. Anything above a whisper was too disruptive; anything less and you'd need to read lips. As aurally uncomfortable as it was, the shard of torn vinyl projecting from the seat and into the back of my thigh proved just as uncomfortable on a more tactile level. And it's not like any semblance of comfort was offered in the tepid bowl of aloo bodi soup ($4.98) either, its bland tomatoey broth teeming with a disintegration of potatoes, black-eyed peas and bamboo shoots. The Nepalese staple might reflect the heritage of the father-and-son tandem running the place, but in no way does it reflect anything else.
On ordering tandoor-grilled xacuti chicken ($14.98), the server's "Are you sure you want it Indian hot?" retort had us believing the dish would be served on the unfurled tongue of a fire-breathing serpent beast summoned from the fiery depths of the Underworld. Sadly, the Goan specialty was mild enough to serve to a Norwegian toddler. Another dish that caught our eye – "mint grilled chicken" ($13.98) – was ultimately passed on, as the menu described it as "deep-fried patties stuffed with fresh ground lamb." Truth.
Then, the vaunted butter chicken ($13.98). I'll just say this: Never before have I tasted butter chicken simultaneously too salty and too sweet. Side note: When paratha ($3.98) was ordered for dipping purposes, the server's response was, "Paratha? Is that a vegetable?" Maybe the bread wouldn't have had such a cardboardy texture if it were.
And it's not like the owner was any better. At one point, he came by to say we should hurry up, as our entrées were ready. Normally I'd take offense, but in this case, we readily obliged. The quicker we got through this meal, the better it'd be for everybody.
Ordering dessert seemed pointless, so we asked for chai ($3.10) instead. "Chai? I'm not sure if we have that," said the server. Why would you? I thought. You're only an Indian restaurant, after all. When it arrived, my dining comrade remarked, "Tastes like dishwater."
Dishwater! Now that's really harsh.