In the growing maze of Eden Prairie strip malls, there are numerous restaurant choices, but few that seem genuinely appealing -- especially for a quick lunch. Red Moon Chinese Cafe proved a lively surprise, and Little Sushi on the Prairie is a reliable option. Now there's a third hidden gem: India Spice House.

Tucked into a stretch that features an insurance office and an oil change shop, the restaurant is easy to miss. But it boasts some standout dishes that are well worth the visit.

Redecorated just a few months ago, the restaurant is surprisingly cozy for a lunchtime visit, but that could be just because it's dark. Standard Indian restaurant decor blends with warm colors and low lighting to make it a soothing, laid-back experience, complete with highly attentive servers.

The buffet ($8 weekdays; $10 weekends) is on the small side, but since many of the dishes pop with flavor, it seems more than enough. The paratha bread -- aggressively flattened and slightly oily -- makes a palate-cleanser for the high spice level of the other dishes. The dal makhani, in particular, sneaks up on you in stages, until you're feeling like a fire eater by meal's end. But in a good way.

Other well balanced and nuanced selections include the chicken tandoori, chilli gobi and egg masala. Unlike some other Indian buffets in town, India Spice House puts a good deal of effort into its sauces, and that's a boon for either cooling down the meal or heating it up even more. The yogurt-based raita is a refreshing pick to dial down the spice, for example, while the coconut chutney is wickedly hot.

There's also a mango puree, but if you're looking for a stronger flavor pairing, opt for the mango milkshake ($2.99), which is similar to a mango lassi, but with a thinner consistency.

There are a few false notes in an otherwise delicious buffet. The inclusion of egg rolls is mystifying, considering there are no other non-Indian selections. The egg rolls are greasy and lackluster, and certainly don't benefit from languishing in a steam tray. The goat biryani, too, is disappointing, since the meat is a little dry and flavorless. But then there's the paneer. Homemade, perfect in texture, this cheese elevates and balances the spicy tikka masala sauce that accompanies it.

With its intimate dining room and attached grocery, India Spice House is a modest, sweet find in the midst of Applebee's and other chain restaurants. Just be sure to load up on the paneer.

The Churn

Pastry chef Michelle Gayer from Salty Tart and mixologist Johnny Michaels from La Belle Vie are hosting a culinary fundraiser for Share Our Strength Minneapolis, an organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger, at the Fine Line on March 1. It's an evening of all-you-can-eat desserts from the Twin Cities' best pastry chefs, an open bar with specialty cocktails from top mixologists, a raffle with fabulous prizes and dancing. (8 p.m. March 1. $60. Fine Line,

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