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Khyber Kabob in Chelsea

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Beth P. Sep 23, 2001 04:26 PM

My husband and I went to Khyber Kabob in Chelsea (10th Ave between 22nd and 23rd) yesterday for dinner. I thought it was Afghani, but it's actually Pakistani. The owner is from Pashawar, and he's a super sweet man. Business has not been good for him of late (he's had to lay off three people), and that's a shame because the food was really good.

We walked in and asked him to recommend things. The owner asked whether we wanted one plate or two, whether we wanted meat or veg and whether we wanted to stay or go. We said two, both and stay, and he started preparing plates from items on the steam table. He explained that since we were getting two, he recommended that we get one with rice and one with bread. (You're supposed to choose, but don't. Pay a buck or two extra and get both. Trust me.)

What we got was a copious amount of food, probably enough to feed four. (Forgive me for not knowing the Pakistani names for things.) One bowl was filled with beef on the bone in a spicy curry sauce with potatoes. Another bowl had four veggie selections-- a dahl-like lentil soup, an okra dish, curried cauliflower, and spicy chickpeas. The final plate had chicken on the bone in a mild curry sauce over rice. And we were also given a flat woven basket with two huge pieces of a naan-like bread on top of it.

Everything was tasty, but some things were spectacular. The rice was a dream-- super long grained and wonderfully flavored, with a subtle scent that reminded me of jasmine rice. The bread was also fabulous, obviously cooked to order, bubbled and crisped in all the right ways. It takes a little while to make, but is more than worth it. And the chickpeas were heaven in legume form, cooked to the maximum tenderness without falling apart in a spicy curry sauce with wonderful depth. The meat wasn't the highest quality, but it too was cooked with care. The okra wasn't at all thick or slimy. We ate every last bite of everything.

And then, when I thought I would explode, I got some dessert. He had another name for it, but it was basically rice pudding, and it was one of the best I've ever had. Wonderful and aromatic, custardy, spiked with just the right amount of spice and topped with a fine grating of pistachio. With two lemonades (from a can, unfortunately), everything came to $17. (Two people could spend less than half that if they drank water and split one meal, which is really more than enough for two.)

There's a menu on the wall, and some of the things on the menu weren't on the steam table, but it wasn't clear to me whether you could order those things and have them freshly prepared or not. They may only have some things on any given day. It would be worth asking, though, and next time I go I'll do that.

One caveat: the place was not entirely clean (but it wasn't filthy, either). The tables could have used wiping and the floor could have used sweeping. I suspect this is the result of the fact that he's had to let people go. If you're squeamish about such things, get the food to go and eat in by the water at Chelsea piers. (Every weekend afternoon between 12 and 4, bands play outside.)

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