Wednesday: Kashmir Grill Finds Its Stride (aka the “$3.99 30th Anniversary Lunch Special” Post)

Dang. In business for 30 years in this dismal neighborhood?!

photo-5Eighth Avenue near the Port Authority has to be one of the last bastions of that gritty, grimy, seedy New York City that far too many New Yorkers wax poetic about, wearing it as some badge of pride.

Well, I’ve seen far more of it than I ever cared to having worked nearby for not even a year — so I can’t imagine the tales that Kashmir Restaurant, an open-around-the-clock Pakistani-Indian restaurant located at the nexus of it all, could tell. If only these freshly-painted walls could talk.

From when I first heard that the restaurant had reopened as a counter-service spot with a spruced-up interior, and had done away entirely with the perpetually stale, and slightly terrifying (and yes, I ate there) lunchtime food buffet, it was only a matter of time until I made a visit.

photo-7Now known as Kashmir Grill, the restaurant is offering two “30 years promotion specials”: A $2.99 kabab roll and a $3.99 rice and chicken special (regularly priced $4.99). In hindsight, I think I would have rather tried the roll, which consists of two grilled kababs wrapped up in naan bread — all the better to sample the new grill feature that I’m assuming prompted the name change.

But I might be thinking about that now because the rice and chicken plate was, well, just okay. Not that I have an issue with offal, but I like to know when I’m ordering it. And I’m fairly certain that not all of the chicken meat was simply white or dark meat pieces, there were some other bits mixed in. The rice was satisfactory, if a little burnt. And the cuts of romaine lettuce laid across the top of the rice and under the charred naan — well, they were neither salad nor anything, other than out of place.

photo-6For the price, you can’t beat it, but I still prefer the meat plate from the nearby food cart, Meal O’Bama.

That kabab roll, on the other hand ... I’m still thinking about it. I think it’s the way to go; I have high hopes. Because really, Kashmir Grill can’t have made it this far for nought.

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Monday: Really Solo Dining at Curry Spot (aka the “$13.95 Feast for One” Post)

photo-6I really want the Curry Spot, a new Indian restaurant in Brooklyn Heights, to do well.

The food is great, the restaurant pleasant enough and the $13.95 two-course meal special — your choice of appetizer and entree, basmati rice, one naan bread and an assortment of condiments — competes with some of the best dinner values I’ve seen around lately. You’re in and out and stuffed and happy for a $20 spot.

photo-9But they’ve got to do something to pick up the pace. On Monday night, between 6:15-7:15 pm, I was the the only diner in the entire place. It broke my heart, just a little (not to mention, it was mildly awkward). At least a couple of delivery and take-out orders came through.

I mean, they are new. According to the grand opening date printed on the take-out menu, the Curry House just opened in mid-August. I only discovered it yesterday; I spotted the strings of festive, multi-colored flags fluttering across the sidewalk from a distance and took a chance on this lonely block off Camden Plaza.

photo-13And I’m here again. The $13.95 special stuck in my head. And guess what? It’s even better than advertised.

For starters, it comes with five Indian condiments to play with, rather than just the two listed. I eventually figured out that this is because the mango chutney and ratia (yogurt & cucumber sauce) are the only ones you’d otherwise have to pay for, the other ones are complimentary for everyone. Still, the delight of five condiments showing up at the table!

photo-12Also, I upgraded to garlic naan without charge (I was expecting to see an additional charge on the bill, there wasn’t one) and I was served a small side salad and a small taste of the yellow lentil soup (the Mulligatawny soup?) that wasn’t listed as being a part of the special.

I’m not sure, everyone dining in might get the soup and salad — they weren’t much more than tastes — or I was given just a touch of special treatment, you know, being the only diner in the whole place. But I suspect that’s just the sort of people that the management at the Curry Spot are; they genuinely want to take care of you.

photo-8For my appetizer I ordered the vegetable pakora: an assortment of deep-fried vegetables (zucchini, mushrooms and cauliflower spears) and three vegetarian fritters, deep-fried balls of sweet potato, Indian spices and I’m not sure what else. Very tasty — and the perfect appetizer to engage the condiments.

photo-7It is called the Curry Spot, so I had to try the house curry with lamb. Before the end of the meal, I was sopping up the curry sauce with my naan, just so good. The curry is a savory one, lightly spiced and vaguely gravy-tasting (in a good way), the opposite of something like a korma sauce, that classic cream-based sauce made with roasted almonds and cashews.

I am definitely coming back to try another variation of the $13.95 special. Next time though, I’m going to bring friends.

Curry Spot, 151 Remsen St., btwn Court and Clinton streets, Brooklyn Heights, (718) 260-9000.

The “This Is Where I Vindicate My Bias Against Wraps” Post

photo(5)I have no problem with food piled onto a large, circular form that is then tucked and rolled into a cylindrical shape: I love burritos; I grew up less than 100 miles from the Mexican border. I love crepes; I love dosas; I love Swedish pancakes (Lingonberry jam and breakfast sausage, mmm).

But what I can’t stand is that American invention, the “wrap,” wherein a bland, pasty tortilla, often a red or green color (why?), is stuffed with traditional, “healthful” sandwich goods (“tuna salad wrap,” “Caesar salad wrap”). There’s just something fundamentally wrong about the wrap phenomenon.
photo(4)Then there are the rolls at Kati Roll Co. — they are everything the “wrap” wishes it could be, but will never, ever achieve.

For starters, the Indian wrap is so delicate, so thin it’s translucent and tears apart like a crêpe. (A majority of the rolls come with a scrambled egg patty, which sets into the wrap almost perfectly and offers some structural support.)
photoThe homemade wrap is heated on an old, cast iron grill before being stuffed with savory, Indian-spiced proteins — chicken, beef, paneer cheese, minced lamb kababs are the options — topped with sliced red onion and doused with a zingy, bright green cilantro sauce. Wow.

Since I was only having one (they’re often eaten in pairs), I went for the big one: an Unda Shami Roll, with egg and two spicy minced mutton kababs. One was substantial: There was certainly a hamburger’s worth of lamb meat inside.

photo(2)Finally! After a rocky start to food today, I found harmony: The heat of the roll, balanced by the sweet of the mango juice drink; the heat of the day, balanced by the cool shade of Bryant Park; the stress of work momentarily forgotten.

Dinner: Thursday, April 23, 2009

Every culture has some sort of hand-held food that comes bundled up in some kind of pastry or bread or rice-based wrap. And you can probably find just about every variation in one New York neighborhood or another. 

photo-39photo-211Which is how I came to eat a dinner of an Indian samosa filled with vegetables (left) and a Polish egg roll stuffed with pork (right).

photo60Now that the weather’s picking up and the light stays long, I’ve been walking home from work a couple of nights a week, scouting out restaurants, markets, wine shops, coffee shops and bars along the way (follow me on Twitter for updates en route, like this one).

photo-55Both Curry in a Hurry in the Flatiron (ish) and the G.I. Polish Delicatessen in the East Village — where I sourced my two-part dinner, respectively — ended up on my way home tonight. It was a nice coupling, indeed. 

COST: $1.25 (samosa), $2 (Polish egg roll)
PREP TIME: breezy 90 minute walk