Papadam and naan, left, complement “bhindi masala” over rice from the lunch buffet at Blue Royal Indian Cuisine in east Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon
A lunch buffet is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily at Blue Royal Indian Cuisine in east Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Chai tea can be ordered from the regular menu during service of the lunch buffet at Blue Royal Indian Cuisine in east Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Butter chicken, left, and tandoori chicken compose a plate with fish masala, rice and naan at Blue Royal Indian Cuisine in east Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Fresh fruits, sauces and other accompaniments are on the cold bar at Blue Royal Indian Cuisine’s lunch buffet in east Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Pakora can include a variety of vegetables at Blue Royal Indian Cuisine’s lunch buffet in east Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Raita, foreground, is one of several dipping sauces and chutneys on the lunch buffet at Blue Royal Indian Cuisine in east Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Steam tables generally are not kind to restaurant and cafeteria-style fare. Among the rare foods that retain their character in this context, Indian tops my list.
When I heard Blue Royal Indian Cuisine instituted a lunch buffet late last year, I had to give this east Medford newcomer another look. Open since last spring, the Larson Creek Center establishment serves an almost encyclopedic menu in an equally expansive dining room.
Blue Royal was bustling during a recent Monday lunch hour, when my friend and I met for a long-overdue lunch date. She confessed to jumping the gun and visiting the buffet the previous day with her husband, who so envied her plans at Blue Royal with me that she appeased him with a birthday lunch. It was good enough, she attested, to warrant an encore.
Indeed, some dishes were on offer for the second day running. “Bhindi masala,” a recipe featuring okra as the main ingredient, wowed both my friend’s husband and me with its assertive spice palette, hearty texture and verdant hue. Vegetable “pakora” and classic “chana masala” of chickpeas, onion and tomato constituted the other vegetarian specialties.
A vegetarian’s paradise at dinnertime, Blue Royal boasts a regular menu of no fewer than 20 plant-based dishes, not including its selection of breads, which also touts gluten-free. For lunch, “assorted naan” is piled high in one of the buffet’s compartments. And much as I love India’s quintessential flatbread, particularly studded with garlic, I would patronize Blue Royal for its “papadam” alone.
Feather-light, paper-thin and punched through with tiny holes, papadam plays on my palate like the most addictively crispy, savory cracker. Blue Royal should sell these snacks in bags at its front door, mimicking local Mexican eateries’ and taco trucks’ traffic in “durros.”
Traditionally made with a flour or paste derived from lentils, chickpeas, black gram, rice or potatoes, papadam can be flavored with a variety of seasonings. Flecked with fennel seeds, Blue Royal’s are priced at $2 per order on the regular menu. But lunch crowds can crunch on papadam to their heart’s content, preferably dipped in yogurt “raita” and mint and tamarind chutneys.
These indispensable sauces also highlight pakora, which vary depending on the day. When my friend and I lunched at Blue Royal, these chickpea-battered fritters were freeform tangles of sliced bell pepper and onion. When I returned several weeks later with my partner, the pakora were staid slices of pedestrian potato.
Just because a dish tends toward plain, however, doesn’t diminish its deliciousness. I mindfully minimize consumption of Blue Royal’s superb steamed basmati rice to save room for other starches. But I could heap my plate in this rice, dolloped with raita and chutneys, and come pretty close to feeling satisfied. Veggie lovers should doubly appreciate Blue Royal’s aromatic “pulao” essentially India’s rice pilaf.
Plenty of space on the buffet goes to chicken, with yogurt-marinated “tandoori” a reliable presence. But customers usually can count on “butter chicken,” a dish beloved both for its mildness and richness. The version my friend and I tried seemed a little anemic, as if Blue Royal was trying to stretch it through lunch service with some added liquid. Thick and flavorful, it was chock full of chicken, seemingly stripped from leftover tandoori, on the day my partner and I visited.
The tandoori-roasted bird, itself, was juicy and succulent on the day my friend and I lunched, less so on my return, when I claimed just a small portion of thigh. Spiciest was Blue Royal’s “karahi chicken,” a Pakistani dish heavy on onions and fresh ginger. The chicken was more finely shredded in this dish than in the others.
Almost hiding in a coconut-enriched sauce, chunks of whitefish came nowhere near to impressing me like the fish “koliwada I savored last spring. Evoking a fisherman’s hub in Mubai, this was quite likely the best dish I’ve eaten at any Indian restaurant locally. But the “koliwada” apparently has departed the regular menu, along with an entire section of specialities devised by Deepak Bhardwaj, an award-winning California chef.
Still offering numerous preparations of shrimp, lamb, house-made paneer cheese and even goat meat, Blue Royal prices its regular menu entrees from $13 to $23. Although I have yet to encounter lamb on the lunch buffet, the price of $13.99 per person is hard to beat for all-you-can-eat carbohydrates, protein and a respectable variety of vegetables, including salad and fresh fruit.
From the cold table, don’t miss Blue Royal’s daily dessert, often the staple “kheer” with rice. New to me was “om Ali,” an Egyptian version of bread pudding made with phyllo or puff pastry, milk and nuts. Although the texture wasn’t as harmonious as kheer, I enjoyed the departure from typical Indian meals.
I’ll keep my eyes peeled on future visits for “gulab jamun,” the perennially popular cheese dumplings simmered in sugar syrup and served warm. Lighter and more wholesome is “gajar halwa,” grated carrots simmered in milk and sugar, garnished with chopped nuts and raisins.
Located at 970 N. Phoenix Road, Blue Royal serves its lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Dinner is from 5 to 9 p.m. daily. Order online at blueroyalindiancuisine.com. Call 541-773-6800.
Pho is for families at Noonie’s Boba Tea in downtown Medford.
The iconic Vietnamese noodle soup can be ordered family-size, starting this month, for two to five people. Specify one protein choice per person, and get $1 off the regular price of $17.95 per serving.
Proteins range from popular beef tri-tip and slow-cooked oxtail to grilled chicken and pork, shrimp, tofu and egg. Fresh chiles, onions, scallions and cilantro accent Noonie’s broth and rice vermicelli, prepared to customers’ desired level of spiciness. Delivery is available through DoorDash.
Open since December 2020 at 149 Central Ave., Noonie’s is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, until 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 541-941-6022.
Grants Pass is the latest city to gain a “red bubble tea truck.”
The Bobablastic chain of food trucks picked up speed in Portland over the past five years and established a Medford location on Crater Lake Highway in 2021. The Grants Pass truck at 1401 N.E. Sixth St. is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
Approximately 30 Bobablastic trucks in Oregon, Washington and Hawaii serve boba tea in an “astonishing” 6,000 combinations, according to the company’s website, bobablastic.com. Quintessential boba combines black, oolong or jasmine tea, chilled, mixed with milk and topped with chewy beads of tapioca. Diverse toppings, dairy alternatives, fruit and floral flavors and other add-ons make boba infinitely customizable.
The drinks that originated in Taiwan in the 1980s — popularized over the past decade in the Pacific Northwest — complement Bobablastic’s menu of rice bowls, spring rolls, hot dogs, nachos, loaded french fries and waffle cones stuffed with sweet chile, maple-bacon or cheesy breaded chicken tenders.
Order drinks at Luna Cafe & Mercantile and support a charitable cause.
The Ashland eatery pledged a $2 donation from each special cocktail and $1 from each special lemonade to Jackson County Fuel Committee throughout February. The volunteer-
run organization works to increase access to heating fuel — including firewood — to thousands of low-income households locally. See jcfuel.weebly.com
Located at 2525 Ashland St., Luna unveiled a new menu — featuring New York steak Stroganoff, chicken-bacon-ranch pizza and other items — this month. Order at lunacafeashland.com or call 541-482-3372 for takeout and curbside pickup.
Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, until 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
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Sarah Lemon has relished the Rogue Valley’s dining scene for nearly two decades as one of the original contributors to Tempo’s dining column. Her palate has helped to judge some of the region’s culinary competitions and festivals. The former editor of A la Carte, the Mail Tribune’s weekly food section, she writes a biweekly column, The Whole Dish, and blogs and podcasts under the same name. Listen at mailtribune.com/podcasts and read more at mailtribune.com/lifestyle/the-whole-dish. Follow @the.whole.dish on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.