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Posts from the ‘Indian/Pakistani’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Pine Nut Ricotta, Paneer, Cream Cheese

PicMonkey Collage

Avant Garden. I didn’t think I’d be eating vegan food on a Friday night (you know, totally Tuesday fare) and yet there I was with a friend sharing plates, drinking wine (from a more conventional list than expected) like I was on a pretend date. It’s all very now (non-basil-based pestos, toasts, grains, pickled produce) and very tasty (the absence of dairy doesn’t register at all). Strangely, the standout was a toast. Strange because the descriptions don’t always sell the dish. Fennel hummus, Castelvetrano olive, orange, walnut was a delicious autumnal combination, rich and almost buttery, while I was resistant to the beets, mango, avocado, black sesame, tamari, tobanjan, lime not because of the long ingredient list but because the mango and avocado read too nuevo Latino, which clearly this round stack of food wasn’t considering the double dose of fermented bean products. Stick with the more outre combos i.e. smoked macadamia, maitake, and crispy leeks rather than seemingly familiar blends like tomato, basil, and almond ricotta.

artichoke slice

In a delayed Big Mac Attack-esque move, after too many drinks at my late ’90s staple Boxcar Lounge, I found myself at 2:30am crouched in a doorway with an enormous, molten artichoke slice dripping with dairy. It wasn’t until I woke up the following afternoon with a charred, ripped-up roof of my mouth (that still hurts three days later) that I even remembered taking a photo. Good going, drunk self.

lupulo duo

Lupulo. Despite the prominent bar, I find NYC places like this tricky to dine in alone because you can eat a cobbled together light meal by spending $24 on two small plates (shrimp turnovers, creamy and fried like haute junk food and duck hearts skewered with pickled mango and shishito peppers) or outlaying the same amount on a more substantial dish to receive less variety. And then despite reasonably spaced stools and well-defined place settings, after the loud male half of a big-spending older couple has had numerous samples of beer followed by multiple full glasses on one side and a single Manhattan has been consumed by a young lady on the other, limbs start splaying, elbows thrust, and personal boundaries become encroached upon until you quietly leave still vaguely hungry. 

samudra duo

SamudraBoth a vegan and vegetarian meal within 48 hours is highly unusual. Samudra is great, though, for chaat and South Indian carbs like the super light dosas filled with spinach to be healthy and hefty uthappam I always get stuffed with paneer. The best, though, might be the vada, perfectly deep-fried chickpea flour doughnuts, crackly on the outside and fluffy in the middle, served here with mild coconut chutney and sambar.

kitchen 79 geoy hor cheese

Kitchen 79. Not enough cheese yet? Let me introduce you to geoy hor cheese a.k.a. Thai crab rangoon. With sweet chile sauce? Amazing. And that doily only helps matters.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Oldies, a Goodie


ny noodletown crabs

Great NY Noodletown I know this old-timer has detractors, but I’m still a fan and it’s not all driven by nostalgia (or even poor late-night decision-making–I’m quite capable of that at 8:30pm on weeknight). Get a group and over-order hacked-up duck, glazed roast pork, a heaping pile of pea shoots, crispy pan-fried noodles topped with squid and scallops, and a few lightly battered soft-shell crabs sprinkled with what I swear are jalapeños (my personal nostalgia since this was the first place I ever had crabs, shells and all, which is hard to believe in the Northeast in 2015). Manhattan’s Chinatown can be touristy and a little down at its heels and maybe each dish isn’t exemplary of its form, but the whole spread taken together with the right company–plus a few drinks–can be a can be a reminder that this part of the city still has charm. Here is every time I’ve mentioned Noodletown over the years, though definitely not every time I’ve eaten there.

tangra masala trio

Tangra Masala Remember when everyone was excited about Indian Chinese food even though a lot of it is fried and sometimes involves ketchup? The smaller, original, alcohol-free location across Queens Boulevard from Target is still a decent pit stop for paneer-stuffed wontons with a minty vinegar dip, lollipop chicken with a thousand island-esque chile sauce, and bright orange chow mein that tastes like Doritos (seriously).

lui's panang curry

Lui’s Thai Food is not the worst idea if you’re looking for a BYOB spot in the East Village on a Saturday night (and possibly trying to escape a group dinner after a memorial at HiFi because group dinners are stressful 90% of the time even though I was just singing the praises of commandeering a round table at Noodletown). I didn’t have the highest hopes and was pleasantly surprised. No, it’s not Queens Thai. It’s not Zabb Elee either. But the crispy basil duck and shrimp panang curry were right on–and intentional–dishes are dishes, none of this pick a protein nonsense. There was a tight selection of entrees to choose from like the above medium-spiced panang curry thickened with ground shrimp and featuring plump fried shrimp and garnished with a hard-boiled egg. You can be an NYU kid with a bottle of Woodbridge Chardonnay and it’s fine or pop around the corner to Urban Wines for something a little nicer. (If it’s Friday or Saturday night, my friend Lindsay is likely working–ask for a recommendation like the off-dry Mosel Riesling we had from a producer whose name I’ve already forgotten.)

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Grandma Edition

Because I can be a horrible person, in my 17 years of NYC life I’ve only returned home for a visit maybe four times. Periodically a family member or two will make up the difference and venture here from Oregon. That was the case this weekend and the impetus for social media grousing over the many where-to-dine-with-out-of-town-parents listicles that assume all elders are wealthier than their adult children and can’t wait to treat them to Daniel.

This was an all-Queens extravaganza motivated by the fact that my mom and her mom have experienced Manhattan and Brooklyn many times by now–and more importantly were airbnb’ing four blocks from my apartment in Jackson Heights. If I took away anything from this rare visit it might be that there’s a genetic possibility that between now and senior citizen-hood I could morph from a crank into a ham.

pollos mario spread

Chicken, rice, beans, and salad at Pollos a la Brasa Mario happened before I realized standard food blog photos weren’t going to cut it. Grandma wanted to be in the picture. There were mixed feelings on first experiences with arepas while hearts of palm passed muster.

jahn's waffle

I’ve wanted to go to the last Jahn’s on earth ever since moving here six months ago but wouldn’t drag friends out for the experience and going solo never felt right. The liver and onions, meatloaf, and white zinfandel will still have to wait. There’s no arguing with a fat waffle hiding a trove of bacon beneath, though.

grandma jahn's breakfast

“The fruit is in a can,” grandma was warned when ordering french toast with fruit. Who would have it any other way? Breakfast inspired the first action shot. Life, bowls of cherries and all that.


grandma eating takoyaki

Octopus balls became a hot topic after showing a photo of takoyaki made by a friend of a friend for Easter, so I knew that while in Flushing I’d have to flout convention and stop by the only Japanese stand, Mojoilla Fresh, at the New World Mall.

grandma tacuba

If you wrap up a Museum of the Moving Image visit too early for The Astor Room’s 5pm happy hour , newish Tacuba across the street is great for a very strong margarita (or two). I probably wouldn’t suggest pitching in with the guacamole-making service to everyone.

astor room bacon

There are limits to being game. No one could be convinced to eat $1 oysters at The Astor Room, but the candied bacon that’s freely available at the bar was a hit.

grandma astor room

I almost thought I was going to get a new grandpa out of our very sweet bartender.

grandma jackson diner

I regret not squeezing in any momos or thenthuk considering Himalayan is now more relevant than Indian in the neighborhood. Buffets are crowd-pleasers, though, and Jackson Diner is now a classic in its own way.

grandma jahn's

Jahn’s was irresistible. So much so that sundaes were had an hour before dinner. Now I need to convince seven others to go in on the original large format meal, the $51.95 Kitchen Sink.

grandma chivito d'oro

Only a heartless monster could dislike Chivito d’Oro, the lovely wood-paneled Uruguayan steakhouse that’s second-closest to my apartment. This is the first time I didn’t order a full-blown parrillada and ventured into the pasta section (primavera with canned mushrooms that elicited no comment a la Jahn’s). Even though I try to avoid starch during the day, I am eating the leftover pasta for lunch as I type because I abhor food waste with the passion of someone on a fixed income.

grandma kitchen 79

Kitchen 79 has a good $7.50 lunch special (grandma had a simple green salad and pineapple fried rice with chicken) and now serves beer.

Not pictured: Empanadas, pasteles, and mini cakes from La Gran Uruguaya or random pizza ordered from La Pequena Taste of Italy on Seamless for delivery that didn’t arrive and took me over an hour to realize I’d accidentally clicked pick-up (too much happy hour).

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Sweets, Shots, Samosas

 arepa lady dessert

Arepa Lady Desserts can be a sticking point at otherwise fine restaurants. Post-tacos, curries or dosas, the sit-down Arepa Lady is fine for a sweet nightcap and open until 1am on weekends, to boot. A naturally sweet arepa de queso can be doctored by a number of squeeze-your-own sauces like pineapple, condensed milk and dulce de leche. Share with a friend at the bar if you’re too full, and if you’re lucky you may walk into one giant birthday party. If I understood correctly, the entire space, which isn’t saying much as it’s the size of a bedroom, was celebrating the Arepa Lady’s daughter’s birthday. We cracked open the leftover BYOB beers from an earlier meal at Kitchen 79 and were gifted a few shots of aguardiente. Salud!

london lennie's quad

London Lennie’s is so awesome I may have to dedicate two entries, one for food and one for the bar. Queens will never be allowed to be called “The New Brooklyn” as long as dollar oysters remain scarce. Offhand, Astor Room and London Lennie’s are the only two borough restaurants I’m aware of with such happy hour deals (I’m all ears, if you know more) and both require a bus ride. No one in Brooklyn, by which I mean Williamsburg, the epicenter of dollar oysters, refers to them as “Buck-a-Shuck” either. In Rego Park, they are available Monday through Friday, 4pm-6pm at the bar. On this occasion the oysters, just a little sweet and saline, were Rocky Reef from Long Island. You may also want big, fat battered fried shrimp, crab dip and oyster shooters. You may also be bought a shot of tequila when your new bar friends find out it’s your dining partner’s 40th birthday. There have been a disproportionate amount of shots consumed since I moved to Queens last month.

raja sweets samosa chat

Raja Sweets & Fast Food Even though Jackson Heights is known for Indian food (I see the Jackson Diner is doing a pop-up at Diamond Bar?) it’s not what the neighborhood excels at. Neither are places to pass time leisurely. Initially, I popped into the reopened Jackson Heights Food Court for a snack to kill time while my apartment was being taken over by wallpaperers (my dining room and entryway kind of rule now) but no one behind the steam table would make eye contact or take my order. To its credit, it did give me that foreign dining feeling where I start questioning myself, “Am I not doing this right?” Carb coma-inducing chaat, more like two dinners than a snack, can be had for $4.99 down the street, so it’s all fine. Instead of being broken up to resemble a lettuce-free chopped salad, this samosa chat contained two nearly intact potato-filled specimens tossed with the requisite chickpeas, spicy sauce, yogurt drizzles and a slew of cilantro and raw chopped onions. Just the right balance of crispy-crunchy and mushy, punched up with heat and an optional diy swirl of sweet-tart tamarind sauce (not really chutney–it looks like ruddy sweet and sour sauce). I’ve had a few chutneys recently that are nearly dead ringers for pico de gallo. A Russian woman at a party last weekend claimed Russian food was like Mexican, which is one of nuttiest things I’ve ever heard. If you said Indian, I’d entertain your argument.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Queens For a Week

I have now been a official Jackson Heights resident for exactly one week. It’s good getting back to my chowhoundy roots. Of course, it’s hardly uncharted territory; this neighborhood and environs have been well tread by Joe DiStefano, Dave Cook, Jeff Orlick and Robert Sietsema, among others. And yes, there are even some women on the scene–just tonight there was an event featuring a discussion between two Queens cookbook authors, Andrea Lynn and Meg Cotner.

I’ll do what I can. Right now that means eating everywhere within walking distance. I’m afraid I’m turning into a bachelor (also that I’m gaining a pound a day in baked goods and ghee.) The newness will wear off soon enough, real fall weather will kick in, and I’ll eventually settle back into home cooking. Maybe?

saw shack takeout

Saw Shack It’s Chinese takeout with rough wood beams instead of primary colored Formica that would feel more at home on Smith Street or Vanderbilt Avenue. On the counter, there’s water chilling in a giant spigoted Mason jar with cucumbers and limon (sometimes cantaloupe) but you can still get a can of soda with your sesame chicken combo meal in a Styrofoam container. Minus the mock meats, there’s nothing radically different about this menu; it’s not upscale or elevated. The pork in the double cooked pork tastes like pork, the sauce isn’t sweet or greasy–in fact, it’s spicy as was asked for–and includes nice thin slices of that smoked tofu that looks like gouda. Pink and green flecks imply there is actually scallion and crab (or at least krab) in the rangoon. You’ll get duck sauce, and also an earthy chile oil that I want to believe is homemade. It’s mostly shredded cabbage in the spring roll, though a meaty strip of shiitake also lurks. This is not a destination restaurant, just a boon for locals.

el gran uruguaya duo

La Gran Uruguaya I accidentally wandered here first, thinking it was La Nueva, the more storied bakery. Both are equally busy and at least on the surface have similar racks of baked goods that would take me months to get through if I tried one item a day. The beef empanadas were fresh from the oven (otherwise, you can have them warmed), super flaky and more rich than you’d expect from a baked version. For me, anything stuffed with dulce de leche is dangerous because I like my sweets sickly sweet, and that sums up most of what’s on offer (except the naked, dry-looking twisted things closest to the register)

la nueva trio

La Nueva Bakery So far, I’ve only sampled a ham and cheese empanada that seemed all shredded ham, and a classic beef empanada that was heavier on the olives and lighter on filling than La Gran Uruguaya’s. The crust was also more bready than flaky, which may be more correct. I will have to do more taste testing.

rajbhog sweets mithai

Rajbhog Sweets I said I like my sweets sweet, right? Half a pound of mithai equals more or less six pieces (pistachio burfi, those round syrupy things called cutlets and a mystery silver-leaved white oblong stuffed with what I think is sweetened cheese), enough for a family or enough for me to finish in less than 12 hours. While senselessly watching Requiem For a Dream, I saw myself in Ellen Burstyn’s character caressing her box of chocolates. And we know how she ends up. The only remedy will be if I stay in my part of the neighborhood and avoid the Indian section.

el chivito d'oro parrillada

El Chivito d’Oro I was going to marvel at how much food you get for $38 until I realized that on my last visit the parrillada for two (teaming with short ribs, sweetbreads, sausage, morcilla, skirt steak and veal) plus two sides cost $10 less. Ok, that was eight years ago, so it’s still a marvel. The meat will probably be well-done. No one will likely ask if you wanted it otherwise. If you’re not fussy, a $19 bottle of Malbec isn’t a bad addition either. Fries and salad, my extras, share billing with less South American rice and beans and tostones. A lot of people order the potato salad. A very long Happy Birthday song might be played. On weekend nights, this and its nearby competitors, all have lines out the door. If you haven’t set up your kitchen yet, you will have leftover meat to eat for a few days and that’s a good thing.

pollos a la brasa mario chicken

Pollos a la Brasa Mario Somehow there are three of this mini-chain in a ten-block radius. There’s certainly more than rotisserie chicken, but I’ve never ventured deep into the Colombian canon (that will have to change soon). The soupy beans (not pictured) are seriously porky and kind of amazing.

kitchen 79 pork knuckle

Kitchen 79 I will say more later (I’ve been twice already) but for now this strangely glossy Thai restaurant is an area standout. You can have your pork knuckle, fish maw and wild boar or bring friends who’ll both order curries with tofu and eat them like entrees and it will be ok (love you guys). Despite the bar with taps advertising Yuengling and Sapporo, it’s still BYOB.


Taste of Cochin

When the only patrons of South Asian descent happen to be men at the bar and a party in the subterranean banquet room, signaled by music chiming up the staircase, beats vibrating beneath your feet, and the occasional celebrator coming up to use the bathrooms, it doesn’t instill much confidence in the food. However, only two parties of two in the dining room does mean that both get to commandeer the pair of banquettes along the wall.

The point of Taste of Cochin was trying Keralan food, which locally only seems to exist on the Queens/Long Island border. It’s a minefield of chicken tika and buffet fare (lunch-only) which I imagine fills the tables during the day. I went into this fairly blind, so my observations aren’t exactly well-informed. (I go nuts when I read others writing naively about cuisines I don’t think are obscure—last night, it was a British person on a Berlin food blog being confused about Colombian food, though realistically, why would they know anything about Colombian food?)

Taste of cochin chicken 65

Who knows the origins of chicken 65, heavily seasoned fried chicken chunks that we were warned away from because of the bones. I wasn’t expecting chicken nuggets, but I did get the gist later when it became apparent that these bits had been hacked willy-nilly and were more like eating catfish.

Taste of cochin malabar fish & keralan vegetables

It was determined that Malabar fish was Keralan. I wasn’t convinced that our waiter, overly helpful, and a little misguided, understood that we truly did want the fish curry to be spicy. It’s easy to get burned when a large number of diners aren’t native eaters of a cuisine. They won us over, though with a heat level not tempered in the least, the kind of heat that spreads through your chest and warms from the inside out. The flavor wasn’t all fiery, but smoky too, adding an unexpected campfire quality. I could’ve sworn we were told the fish was sea bass, and the white flesh was very firm, so firm it made me wonder if it was not smoked and canned. I also wonder if kodampuli, a dried, smoked fruit traditionally used in Malabar curries had anything to do with the smoky aspect.

The vegetables, in a coconutty sauced tinged with turmeric, were also unusual in that they not only used okra, but also long, fat strips of yuca that looked like potatoes until you bit down and got that fibrous chew. Also a hot dish in spite of the deceptive creaminess.

We went back and forth over whether we wanted basmati or southern rice. Whatever would go with the other dishes. “So, you want basmati?” then “I’ll bring you southern rice.” Um, was this Uncle Ben’s? Ok, I do see that “fat rice,” which this was, is eaten in Kerala, but it definitely wasn’t red.

Taste of Cochin is weird like that, almost as if you’re in a foreign country and it’s not clear if the oddness is caused by you or them, but it’s all fun in the end. Our waiter who is a regular at Mohegan Sun was discussing the new Aqueduct casino with the ladies next to us who had just been celebrating a birthday in Atlantic City. By the time we were ready to leave, one of the women who didn’t live in the neighborhood either (I don’t know how else you’d end up there) told me she had came from Burlington Coat Factory (where we’d also just been–I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want to come across as a Burlington Coat Factory snob—the worst kind of snob—but it was the most busted, like a ‘70s Sears from my childhood, store I’d been to in at least a decade. After this early dinner we went to the Rego Park Center with a modern Burlington Coat Factory and the best Century 21 in existence) wanted to know what I’d ordered (she had a chicken curry, extra spicy). Then the waiter gave me two rolls of toilet paper to take into the ladies room because he’d just been told they were out. It was locked, so I put the rolls on the ground outside the door and the waiter suggested I use the men’s room, which as soon as I shut and locked the door was being banged on by a male partygoer who seemed horrified when I emerged. But hey, the leftovers were good the next night.

Taste of Cochin * 248-08, Union Turnpike, Bellrose, NY


Line Clear Nasi Kandar

Unlike my first gluttonous foray into nasi kandar, point-and-pick Indian-Muslim food over rice, I showed restraint on my second visit to Penang. I might’ve ordered more this time too, but I go with the flow when I’m not completely familiar with a dining style.

Line clear nasi kandar serving

“White rice or biryani?” was the first question. Plain, trying to save calories (I kid…sort of). The New Yorker in me can’t bear holding up lines, so no time was wasted with the “What’s in that pan?” game. I identified chicken curry and settled on that. I would’ve liked something from the sea, maybe squid eggs, as well. My contemplative mood was ended by, “What vegetable?” Uh ok, green beans, then. “Cabbage?” That seemed like a requirement…so, yes. Then the guy manning the station ladles gravy from different dishes, not necessarily the ones you ordered, onto the rice. See? You don’t really need the biryani.

Line clear nasi kandar plate

Some people eat with their hands, some don’t. Everyone eats quickly and no one wastes a speck. Even though I didn’t load up with a zillion different items like at Kayu Nasi Kandar (now out of business), this was a lot of food. I wouldn’t normally eat all of this rice, but to leave food behind seemed very American and grotesque and I have a hard enough time throwing away food as it is.

Nasi kandar kitten

Clearly, there are scraps to be had. This tiny cat had a chicken bone to herself. 85% of the felines I’ve encountered in SE Asia are unusually small, angular-faced and have short tails, not like manxes but half the length or a typical US cat, with stubs on the end like they’ve been broken. This cat’s tail doesn’t extend behind the table leg, what’s pictured is the end of it. My cat weighs over 20 pounds even though I feed her as much as our normal-sized cat, so I am fascinated by these sylphs. I also wonder if you could possibly eat nasi kandar on a regular basis and not plump up.

Line clear nasi kandar entrance

A man at the table behind me wanted to chat because he had heard our American accents (I’ve always wondered if in SE Asia, for instance, they can distinguish among different English accents—there are definitely more Australians and Germans speaking English than Americans). He was in Penang taking his mother to a cardiologist even though he lived in Idaho where he runs a Chinese restaurant. I really wanted to ask what kind of food he serves—how could someone who probably enjoys char kway teow serve kung pao to his neighbors? Maybe he could answer this question I stumbled upon today in the Boise Weekly, “Why does most of the Chinese food in Idaho, well, suck?

Line Clear Nasi Kandar * Jalan Penang & Lebuh Chulia, Penang, Malaysia


  Kat a kat curry En route to my new favorite discount mall, I got waylaid at what used to be a huge International Food Warehouse/National Wholesale Liquidators combo. Now, the eclectic edibles—Bulgarian cheese, Serbian juice, Italian cookies—are crammed into the corner amidst Windex from Indonesia and bins of irregular Hanes Her Way.

I was saddened by the abbreviated grocery offerings, but cheered a bit when I found a box of spices for something called Kat a Kat. The name had appeal and according to the recipe on the box, the dish contains a symphony of organ meat: kidneys, hearts and brains. Not only did I put the box in my cart, I developed a sudden urge for Indian food. (I do realize now that Kat a Kat is Pakistani).

Mantra lounge

I did contemplate Bobby’s Burger Palace at the Bergen Town Center, but stuck to my guns: South Asian or nothing. It’s not like Paramus is Edison, teeming with options, however, it did look like there was an upscale-ish Indian restaurant, Mantra, just across Route 4 in a strip mall with a Macy’s Furniture Gallery. I imagined it would be similar to Moksha, and it was, though a bit more loungey–check out the flames popping up in the divider separating the bar, where they serve Desi wings and cheese amigos (inside out jalapeno poppers) from the dining room.

Mantra bhel poori

Bhel poori, the spicy-savory puffed rice snack presented while you pore over the menu, tended to confuse the half of the diners who weren’t Indian. Do you use your hands or eat it with a spoon like cereal?

Mantra samosas

Lamb samosas, nothing fancy. I always feel that the thick shell takes more precedence than the filling. Other appetizers like a balsamic-dressed salad with oranges and pears seemed too pedestrian while the lobster chat, too aspirational.

Mantra fish curry

The Mumbai fish curry was the best dish, very fiery and like a more overtly Indian fish head curry. Chile heat, yes, plus more curry leaf and brown mustard seed undertones. Tilapia isn’t the most exciting fish, but I don’t mind it in strongly favored sauces (in fact, I just used tilapia filets for a heavily spiced tagine).

Mantra mixed tandoori grill

Mixed tandoori grills tend to be…well, mixed; some chunks are more interesting than others. The bone-in meat was moister than the ground and re-formed pieces. This sampler included mal mal kabab (ground chicken), kesari jhinga (prawns), Lahore seekh kabab (lamb), barrah kabab (more lamb). Not all are pictured because I grabbed first, shot later.

Mantra exterior

Mantra * 275 E, Rt. 4, Paramus, NJ 


I just can't seem to stay out of the suburbs. I've been in New Jersey the past two Saturdays…by choice. There was some reason why we needed to go to Home Depot and Wal-Mart, but I couldn't tell you why now. Light bulbs? A mop? I clearly have issues with Brooklyn if I'd rather drive 26 miles (hey, that's a marathon) to accomplish simple errands.

But it does allow me to explore the dining world outside of New York City. Jackson Heights is fine but Edison's Oak Tree Road is hardly shabby. A few weeks ago while doing some non-blog research, I tried assorted mithai, paneer poppers and a vada pav at Sukhadia's, a vegetarian fast food joint. Sure, we have one in midtown too but I never seem to get up there.

One of my favorite spots in Edison is a strip mall with an Avon storefront, pool supply shop, and a Chili's in the parking lot. Oh, Indians and their love of fiery food. And apparently we'll be selling to them on their home turf soon. Actually, I'm not sure what the hubbub is over, the chain has existed for some time in “spicy” countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Mexico. I wasn't surprised in the least to find one inside the Petronas Towers.

Behind the run of the mill stores is a mini Indian complex, complete with a Bollywood-heavy theater (X-Men Origins or Mitrudu, it's up to you) and a clump of eateries that I think are all affiliated. Moksha is non-vegetarian South Indian, Ming (where I've never eaten) is Chinese-Indian, Singas (which has a location walking distance from my apartment that I need try for at least novelty’s sake at some point) has individual pizzas served in strange bags, Mithaas is like a Desi Starbucks but with emphasis on sweets by the pound and meat-free snacks, not coffee (it just has that '90s leather chairs cafe look—check out their ambience page if you don’t believe me)

We decided to try Moghul, the fancier than usual Indian restaurant with photos of the owners with Jon Corzine and Mother Teresa in the foyer. It's almost like a Cheesecake Factory in there—lots of ironwork, travertine and intricate light fixtures. The type of place where people bring their own white wine (they don't serve alcohol, which we discovered too late to do anything about). Absolutely no connoisseur of Indian food, I was still able to tell that what was being served was more balanced and wide ranging than what you see on a typically see on NYC menus.

Moghul aloo papri chaat

I had no idea what to expect from the aloo papri chaat, but I liked the yogurty hodge podge. There were chickpeas, dumplings, wonton-like creations they call “flour crispies” and potatoes, all drizzled with tamarind chutney and plenty of cilantro.

Moghul basmati

You like starch? Well, here's basmati, papadums and garlic naan. I have remind myself that bread and rice should be either or.

Moghul kafta naramdil

I should've ordered a real vegetable after all that but I wasn't thinking. Kafta naramdil are Twinkie-sized cheese dumplings stuffed with "dried fruit" (I honestly couldn't say which) smothered in a mild creamy curry. This can't possibly be healthy, which means that it was tasty.

Moghul vindaloo

There were plenty of more outré lamb dishes and tons of tandoori items that I would've explored if we had more people to share with. But the lamb vindaloo was surprisingly good, much spicier than anticipated and vinegar tart to stave off any richness overload.

My sugar-free weekday existence is always thwarted on Saturday. I’m like a binge drinker with candy (and well, alcohol too, on occasion). First, I couldn't resist a box of Crunch & Munch at Wal-Mart (I have a serious weakness for caramel corn, though I prefer the classier more caloric Poppycock) so I was determined to ignore Mithaas on the way back to the car. But it just couldn't be done. I was restrained and only chose half a pound of goodies.

Mithaas sweets open

I get the sense that not everyone is a fan of these colorful sweets that are practically all variations on condensed milk and sugar. To me, they’re irresistible  even though many have the texture of Play-Doh. I like them even more than kueh, another colorful candied obsession. But I must admit the Malay treats that are practically all variations on glutinous rice and coconut milk aren't always as compelling in the mouth as in a display. Mithai totally have better payoff according to my palate. Now, I just need to learn all of their names so I can do more than just point at pans. Or better yet, they could put up little signs. Just for me.

Moghul * 1655-195 Oak Tree Rd., Edison, NJ
Mithaas * 1655-170 Oak Tree Rd., Edison, NJ

Muthu’s Curry

I had originally set my sights on Karu’s for fish head curry, but after so much sickness set in, ease of transport took precedence over tracking down obscure haunts. This wasn’t the time to be catching buses to the Queens and Brooklyns of Singapore. Instead, I went for the obvious: Race Course Road, the main drag of Little India.

Muthu's interior

I had tried the other well-known fish head purveyor on this strip, Banana Leaf Apolo, last time. Muthu’s is shinier and more modern in décor and showcases a much-used tandoor in the front of the large room. They totally mix up Northern and Southern styles of cooking and seemed proud of their bizarre hybrid, a tandoori fish head, which I would’ve gladly tried on a second visit. Muthu’s is also a la carte, so no blobs of sundry curries doled onto banana leaf placemats/plates.

Muthu's fish head curry

I was surprised how much I liked fish head curry the first time I had it, not because of the disembodied head (I really don’t know why people are so scared by fish faces. I’ve had various odd links to my stargazy pie experiment because the dish seems freakish) but because I envisioned a blah soupy mild Indian-spiced preparation. In reality, it’s kind of like nothing you’ve tasted before, assuming you’re American, that is.

This is one of those rare Singapore specific dishes like chile crab or Hainan chicken rice No one else can claim it (though there is a Nonya version). Fish head curry is a total invention dreamed up by local Indian cooks and not something you would find in South Asia. In some ways it’s closer to a Thai yellow curry, all sour and hot, no coconut milk softening or sweet notes. The meat, including the gelatinous bits, is moister than a filet and half the fun is picking the white flesh from the many nooks and crannies. However, I stopped short at eating the eye and I refrained from biting the cartilage-heavy tongue after dislodging it from the little jawbone ringed with sharp teeth.

Muthu's gobi manchurian

We had Malay-Indian mishmash on the table so why not Chinese-Indian too? Gobi Manchurian is classic Indian “Chinese” food. Battered, fried cauliflower is filling, though, and would probably be better as a focus than a side.

Muthu's pork vindaloo

The pork vindaloo was one course too many (there was also biryani and naan) and just weighed us down. This is where we should’ve taken our waiter’s suggestion of something skewered from the tandoor.

Muthu's fish head remains

Picked nearly clean.

Muthu’s Curry * 138 Race Course Rd., Singapore