Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dhaba and Lexington Avenue's Indian Restaurant Scene

I've been to Dhaba a few times:  it's become my go to choice when I find myself with a hankering for Indian food. They have a huge menu specializing in street food from Punjabi.  I like how the menu is divided up so you can get a huge selection of smaller dishes.  Then they have a section called "London Calling, British Curry House" as well as the "Indo Chinese Corner."  In short, something for everyone. The room is fun and colorful; the back of the banquets along the south wall look like rolls of silk fabric, but in reality they are some kind of tubing which is showing it's wear and isn't so comfy. 

I had a particular hankering for goat, but was eager to try one of the thumbs up chef recommended dishes.  After a long conversation with the pleasant waitress, she said they could make the Achari Goshet, normally made with Lamb (they use Australian Lamb), with goat.  I also ordered Dahi Bindi and some Tandori Roti with butter (the butter option isn't on the menu, but was offered by the waitress).
To drink I ordered a mug o' Chaas with cumin and coriander; for the uninitiated it is buttermilk on ice, the cumin is in roasted seed form and the coriander is fresh and very scarce.  It was delicious.

To start everyone gets a selection of chutney's: Onion, Coriander and Tamarind.  All good, and not to sweet (I hate it when they are sugary).  My favorite was the coriander.  A basket of spice seed filled poppadom is placed along side the chutneys.
Dahi Bindi are crunchy battered Okra lightly dusted with some Indian spices.  Even if you hate Okra you would like these:  brilliantly deep fried (no oil slicks here!), crunchy and with just a hint of spice.  Think of them as healthy french fries (not that I can vouch for their healthy-ness).

Rice and bread are extras so I just ordered the aforementioned Roti, which I dipped into my Achari Goshet when it came.  The base of this dish is pickling spices with the addition of hot peppers.  The heat was just right.  When I bit into a chunk of meat it was lamb not goat.  Delicious nonetheless.  As much as I enjoyed dipping my bread in the rich spicy sauce my lamb came in I think next time I would have a carb splurge and get the rice.

As good as Dhaba is it's not cheap.  Don't go with 6th Street expectations, either of the food or the price; my little crunchy Okra dish set me back $14 (which strikes me as too much) and the Lamb was $15.  I don't understand how the food cost for Okra and the food cost for Lamb can be so close?  Nonetheless, as a special treat or if you have friends in from out of town Dhaba is a fun room with an exceptional array of choices of well presented quality Punjabi dishes.

Before I even got in the door at Dhaba I was struck by the selection of upscale restaurants that have sprung up on Lexington.  It must have been 15 minutes before I finally stopped looking in all the windows trying to make up my mind as to where to eat.  Across the street is Saravana Bhavan which is an Indian Vegetarian restaurant with locations all over the world.  I've never been but every time I walk by in the evening there is a line.  Also of note is Cinnamon, another newcomer (to me) on the block, which looks inviting and advertises handcrafted Indian cuisine.  These are just a few of many places that look well worth a trip to Lexington Avenue's little India which runs from 25th to 29th (give or take a few blocks), and don't forget to get there early so you can do some shopping at Kalustyans.

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