The canteen of a Delhi guesthouse belonging to the southern Indian state of Kerala was visited by police after a rightwing Hindu group complained it had beef on its menu.
Staff told police that beef items on their menu were buffalo, not cow, meat.
Police said they only went to Kerala House as a "preventive measure", not to investigate the complaint or take meat samples.
An angry Kerala government has complained to the police.
Kerala is one of the few Indian states in which cow slaughter is legal.
Most states, including Delhi, most states, including Delhi, ban the slaughter of cows, because the cow is considered sacred by India's majority Hindus.
Indian media report that Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi accusing the police of overstepping their authority.
"I would like to inform you that the Kerala House staff canteen serves authentic vegetarian and non-vegetarian Kerala cuisine and the items in the menu are entirely within law," the letter is reported to have said.
The confusion likely stemmed from the fact that in India, buffalo meat is often called "beef", the BBC's South Asia Editor Charles Haviland reports.
After the police action, the institution removed the buffalo meat from its kitchens - but has since, defiantly, restored it, our correspondent says.
Following Monday evening's incident, the police picked up the caller from the Hindu Sena group for further questioning.
"We dealt with the matter with necessary alertness and took our position. The objective was to ensure that law and order is not disrupted," Jatin Narwal, a senior police officer, told the NDTV news site.
However, Kerala Chief Minister Oomen Chandy condemned the police for visiting Kerala House at all.
"The Delhi police should have shown restraint and consulted officials concerned before checking the premises for beef dishes," Mr Chandy told Indian television channels.
'Stuck in the throat'
The incident has led to outrage on both social and mainstream media.
"Kerala's famed beef curry has been an annoying bone that got stuck in the throat of the Sangh parivar [Hindu hardline group], especially because many Hindus in the state relish the dish," an editorial in the Telegraph newspaper said.
Arun Shourie, who was a minister in the former BJP government, also criticised the government, saying its policies were identical to those of the previous Congress government - except for its preoccupation with cows.
"People have started recalling the days of [former prime minister] Manmohan Singh. The way to characterise the policies of the government is - Congress plus a cow. The policies are the same," he said at a function in Delhi.
"Kerala House" was one of the top trends on Twitter India, with many criticising the government as well as what they saw as overzealous police action.
The issue of beef consumption has become highly political since a 50-year-old Muslim man was lynched in north India over allegations that he had consumed beef.
Government ministers from the Hindu nationalist BJP said the incident was a "spontaneous expression of anger", while the chief minister of the northern state of Haryana said the cow "is an article of faith" in India.
The beef ban has provoked outrage, with many questioning the government's right to decide what is on their plate.
It has also been criticised by many as beef is cheaper than chicken and fish and is a staple for the poorer Muslim, tribal and Dalit (formerly untouchable) communities.