Tuesday, September 07, 2004

My Big Fat Hyderbadi Wedding

Since I saw the revamped restaurant in the space at 2501 W. Devon, I've been anxious to try. Three things intrigued me. First, it proclaimed itself a branch of a restaurant with locations in California, Canada, etc. Although chains have their own issues, the notion that this place was good enough (or at least financed well enough) to expand made me want to try. Second, the buffet offered 20 items, and I am firmly in the more is better school of chow. Finally, the restaurant advertised an assortment of items typically not found on other buffets on Da'Bomb, South-Asian Muslim specialties like nehari and paya. With one last free Sunday before the chowhounditas religious school re-starts, we satisfied my wish this weekend.

Shahnawaz made me think I crashed some party. Not a posh, high caste affair, but a well intentioned, do our best party. There was a whole tandoor cooked leg of lamb, but you piled your slices on plastic plates. See what I mean. Likewise, this buffet included drinks, a sweet milk with pistachios, another milk flavored with strawberries (like you also see on Maxwell St.), salty lassi, and chai, but you drank them in styrofoam cups. And like a wedding, some of the stuff was very well done and some was just there. The salad plate featured fresher and more varied vegetables, including a relish of fine minced jalepenos. Very fresh vegetables also highlighted an oily, very spicy curry. I especially liked how the chunks of vegetables differed from the frozen peas and carrots seen on a lot of other buffets. There was lots of fresh made naan bread with puddles of melted ghee just the way my heat likes it. Then, there was a yellow dal tasting almost of glue (yet with really good carmelized onions). Both desserts, semolina halwa and kheer (rice pudding) sucked. Those drinks, however, made for great finishers.

As advertised, the buffet featured a bunch of Hyderbadi classics: nehari, haleem, sauteed lamb livers. The last was quite tasty even if a few pieces were tough. The haleem appeared to have no meat but was quite tasty and accented nicely by help yourself shreds of fresh ginger. The nehari, beef in a clove scented gravy suffered a bit from steam-table-itis. For one thing, you just could not pour it on your plastic plate in the right consistency. For another, it seemed a bit watery. On the other hand, I liked both tandoor cooked items. Much different than the typical buffet. Where others are food dye red, these are spice dominated. Even if you do not like well done lamb, this leg with sharp knife and tongs to assist you, make for great eating.

A lot of other families came to this party. We piled our plastic plates all over the place as we worked the lamb to its barest bone. Our music was more suitable for the prayer part of the festivities than the dancing party, but we still all enjoyed ourselves.

2501 W. Devon
Chicago, IL