Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bukhara

Bukhara Grill New York Indian Restaurant
bukharany.com

217 E 49th St
New York, NY 10017-1501
(877) 285-4272

Net: Go here for Indian grilled/tandoor food—this is close to what you will get at the best kebab places in India.

A surefire way to get a conversation going, when I meet Indians residing in Manhattan, is to tell them that I have never been happy with the authenticity or quality of Indian food at any restaurant in Manhattan. This is not an entirely true statement. But I leave it out there since it generally draws an animated response, and recommendations to offbeat places. Perhaps the restaurant with Latin fusion food with Indian thematic elements, where everyone is dressed in Manhattan black. Or the establishment that offers handpicked, organic beef cooked “Brahmin style”. Or this real authentic place where you can sit elbow-to-elbow with Bengali taxidrivers. Fads are pursued in Manhattan with the zeal of kindergartners chasing a soccer ball—Indian food is no exception. But there are some really great places to be found, and for that I left it to my close friends A and U, to pick one and then take us out to celebrate a promotionary dinner. This is what led us to Bukhara, on a recent Sunday evening.

The better known Bukhara is in Delhi, at the Maurya Sheraton hotel and is probably India’s best known restaurant for tandoori food. I was there 3 years ago for dinner, and the food was certainly good, my visiting Austrian friend leaning over informing me in the process of engorgement, that he did not care whether he was going to pass out, as he and his food became one.

At Bukhara in New York, the menu comes on varnished slabs of wood. The d├ęcor is a touch country woodsy: thick, uneven, heavily polyurethaned slabs of wood form tabletops, little polished wooden slabs cross-cut from logs hang on the walls as decorative motifs, alongside rich Persian carpets.

We had hariyali chicken and crab for appetizers. The chicken, marinated in a spicy green chili based sauce, then grilled, was soft, perhaps slightly softer than I would have preferred. Raan—a North Indian (as well as Afghan) favorite—grilled lamb on the bone was as good as I have had, yet the highpoint were the the grilled lamb chops, with tender meat slightly charred and crisp on the outside. A curry’s beauty lies in the uniqueness of its spicing, and it should be built around a fundamental taste component, a case in point is the Kashmiri Yakhni where the overpowering use of Saunff (cumin) feels right. It is all too often that Indian restaurants pervert their curries into ugly orgies of oil, food coloring and a medley of spices. This was the case for Bukhara, yet this comes as no surprise or offense, after so many years of suffering this abuse. Avoid these run-of-the-mill curries: and go for the grilled and tandoor meat dishes, they are first rate. The chef here know what he (she) is doing with his tandoor, a clay oven with a cylindrical cavity that has evolved over the years in Northern India and Central Asia. The walls of the clay cavity absorb the heat from the hot coals at the pit of this oven and heat food by a combination of conduction and radiation.

Bukhara makes its own Kulfi, traditional Indian ice-cream with pistachio and almonds, denser and harder than western ice-creams. Do not miss this. Stay away from the house wine--I had a glass of Merlot, and while I am far far away from being a wine snob, it would probably have been best to have stuck to beer.
Bukhara Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Shiraz

Shiraz Restaurant
81 E Main St
Elmsford, NY 10523
(914) 345-6111

Great lamb shank, spotty service.

Shiraz is the first Persian restaurant that I have seen in Westchester, located at the site of the old “Oki-Doki”, a Korean restaurant that closed down some years back. The first time we went to Shiraz, on a Saturday night with the economy less than healthy, the manager informed us that he had run out of food. Food must be good, we concluded, and made a second attempt a few weeks later. This time I had the gumption to call in for a reservation.

Persian food has strong similarities to North Indian food. There has been much migration into India from Iran over the centuries, indeed the language, Urdu, which means “army” in Persian, arose as a bastard dialect that formed the compromise between the Persian generals and and their Hindi speaking soldiers. And so with the food as well. Meat preparations such as kebabs, rice dishes that go by polow in Persian, pilau in Dari, and pulao in most of India; cucumber-yogurt side dishes, khira raita to the Indian, the more dramatic mast-o-khiar to the Iranian; Zulbiya (Jalebi in India)--a deep fried (in sugar or honey) batter of interpenetrating rings fused together, with caramelized sugar on the outside and partially fermented sugar on the inside, was popularized in India by the Mughal emperor Jehangir in the 17th. century. Persian food makes more extensive use of dried nuts and fruits, such as zereshk or dried barberries. It tends to be less spicier than North Indian food, and I prefer this level of spiciness since it matches closer to levels of home cooked Indian food.

The manager at Shiraz, a pleasant looking sort of chap, looks like he skipped a couple of courses in basic restaurant management courtesy. After taking our name, he pointed out a table with the peremptory wave of an Indian bureaucrat, and promptly forgot about us. After a healthy wait, we flagged a waiter down for menus, some time later we flagged another one down for some water, it was, as if, the establishment ran an a la carte’ service for basic services. Once we ordered, it took a significant amount of time for the food to arrive, though in this case the delay was a welcome one, reflecting the time it took to genuinely prepare a dish from the ground up rather than composite one from pre-prepared items in the bin.

The dish to order at Shiraz is the lamb shank: with tender meat falling off the bone, set in a mild, flavorful souplike gravy that tasted like really good homemade Indian meat curry. This was probably one of the best lamb dishes that I have eaten in Westchester. A second meat dish we ordered, a concoction of pomegranate and beef -- I would avoid in future, the combination falls flat. The rice was good, individual grains evenly cooked, without stickiness, “equal but separate”. We ended the evening with dessert—zulbiyas and Persian ice-cream, the zulbiyas shriveled and stale from that morning or the night before, but the Persian ice-cream, popularized in Iran only after the first World War, with its saffron and rose water infused flavors on that cool, calm Elmsford evening reminding me of Ralli Singh’s Rose Syrup, Rooh Afzah, and times long gone.

Revisit (note added Aug 20, 2011)
A few days back we returned to Shiraz and can attest to the fact that the place has retained the high quality of its dishes.  The lamb shank (they use New Zealand lamb) remains the best that I have had in Westchester.  The gravy, less spiced compared to Indian food, has a deeper, subtler flavor.  The beef kebabs, particularly the ones made from ground meet were superb.  And I cannot shower any more praise for the ice cream--with its saffron and rose flavor, this is one of the finest and most exotic of ice creams that you will have had. 
Shiraz on Urbanspoon