By now (Feb 2014) Madison has several Indian restaurants, including some good ones. What has been lacking is a restaurant that specializes in south Indian cuisine, which is quite different from the usual Naan and Tandoori dishes of the north. I was therefore very interested when Minerva opened late last year, featuring and specializing in south Indian food.
Minerva is located on the far west side of Madison (on Junction Road about a half mile north of Target), in a newer strip mall. Parking and entry are from the rear. The interior space is fairly tight, with relatively few tables for the number of people wanting to dine there. This may improve as the newness wears off and crowding decreases. The ambience is about average for an Indian restaurant.
The first time we went there they were serving a lunch buffet (as apparently they do each day for lunch - they are open 7 days a week), though the waiter informed us that we could order a la carte as well. We chose the buffet, and found it to be above average, and up to expectations, with a wide range of well-prepared dishes, including several not usually found at the other Madison area Indian restaurants. I would rate the buffet 4/5 if not a shade higher.
The next time we went for dinner, and there was a wait for tables as they were full. Once we were seated, service was fairly quick, and the food arrived within 15 minutes. Food quality was a bit more variable, ranging between poor for the appetizer to very good for the Dosa. Overall probably 3.5 stars out of 5.
The menu is huge, with dishes from seemingly every corner of India, plus a few from other countries! I think this is a mistake, and probably leads to the unevenness we noticed. Minerva would probably do better to stick with its south Indian roots and specialize in what it does best. A few kinks with the service need to be worked out. The waiters were friendly and hard working, but seemed harried by the crowd, and sometimes forgot to bring this or that. The overall experience seemed a bit rushed.
The biggest plus is that this is the first true south Indian restaurant in Madison, and thus a very welcome addition to the local dining scene. The unevenness should improve with time and experience. The management and staff seemed eager to please, and prices are very modest, even a shade below the competition. Some of the dishes are innovative and quite good, with good use of spices without being overpoweringly hot. I look forward to repeat visits.
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