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Sep 13, 1999 06:50 PM

five star pujabi, yemen cafe

  • j

a note on two very recent meals - had a so-so dinner
at five star punjabi Saturday night - maybe thats a
bad time there, cooks night off or something - To
start out with, we both noted it smelled slightly
unpleasant, mildewy or something else we could not
identify. Excellent samosa chaat and the unpromising
looking litle lettuce and tomatoes came with nice
spicing - we were eager for the saag paneer but would
recommend against it - rubbery unmelted cubes of
paneer in the puree of greens - admittedly, this was
more "authentic" than the typical NY saag with
spinach, since it definitely had the stronger tasting
greens like broccoli raab that punjabis favor - but
the puree was brownish rather than green green, with
even some desiccated tannish bits,and lacked
freshness, leading me to think that maybe even dried
greens were used. At any rate, it was not a good
choice for us. The butter chicken (our first
experience) was better, the sauce was unctuous indeed,
but I couldn't shake the feeling that it reminded me,
in flavor and texture, of some rubbery creamy seafood
dish experienced long ago, and the spicing was not
particularly interesting. The naan was a real
disappointment bisquik (baking powder) naan not yeast
raised - it seems to be becoming the standard in these
cheaper indian places. Not terrible but not proper
naan - I would recommend going for one of the non-
raised breads like paratha instead. Chutney not worth
eating - fake coriander chutney, ground onions died
green and a pedestrian tamarind - maybe from a mix.
There is clearly someone in this kitchen who can cook,
the samosa chaat proved that, but the overall quality
level was disappointing. Id rather spend a couple
dollars more for fresh coriander, fresh greens, etc.

A more pleasing experience was lunch today at Yemen
Cafe on Atlantic Avenue (jury duty!) - an extremely
tasty lamb broth (offered gratis) and lamb gelaba
(spiced, sauteed lamb) with rice, very nicely cooked
and seasoned (needed salt). The yemeni guys in there
were eating big hunks of roast lamb on the bone with
stewed vegetables, plates of romaine leaves and huge
naans (2+ feet across). Maybe they were bisquik naans
too, whatever, I will give it a try next time, but
watching the guys eat with their hands and obviously
with pleasure was a pleasure in itself.

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  1. The Five Star punjabi, if it's the one off 21st Street
    in LIC under the bridge, does seem to get a lot of
    posts on this board. I stopped going after being put
    off by that smell jen cited in her post but have
    returned repeatedly for pretty damn decent take-out
    after someone raved about the butter chicken in past
    postings here. I have to say I'm kind of in limbo now.
    Does anyone know more about this place? I've had good
    and not so good meals from 5-star (similar to as Jen
    described it) and don't know whether to be delighted or
    disgusted by the place. Maybe that's the confused
    beauty of life, eh? Well, before I go further with this
    inane digression, I'd like some more input on 5-star
    from others. That sanitary issue is bugging me. Thanks.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Dan Havlik

      I had been reluctant to talk abour 2 recent not very
      good experiences we had a 5 star after 2 excellent
      ones. I suspect Jim is right, that often lately they
      choose to serve left overs from lunch. We were unlucky
      the last two times so we haven't returned. The smell
      of insect spray is worse lately, too. Too bad because
      the first two meals we had there were really terrific.

      1. re: phyllis

        Blame the bug spray smell on all those nasty mosquitos,

          1. re: Dan Havlik

            Had a similar smell experience there last Friday,
            though the food was excellent and appeared to be
            freshly made. It smelled sewagey to us (my girlfriend
            has a great nose), though we got used to it in about 10
            minutes. Maybe it was the Malathion (sp?), but that's
            not how Central Park smelled after they sprayed there.

            I was particularly taken by 2 VERY American-looking men
            intently watching an Indian-language film on the TV.
            Either bilingual or real tube-addicts.


      2. Jen--sounds like 5 Star gave you lunch buffet
        leftovers. That's not happened to me, but maybe I've
        just been lucky.

        I understand and respect your yeast-raised naan crusade
        (g), but I'm not such a stickler..I like their breads
        fine and suspect that most others would as well.

        I've always eaten really well there (though I agree on
        the chutney...this is Punjabi truck stop food, after
        all, not loving grandmother--or delicate raj--cooking,
        so you wouldn't expect careful chutneys) and all recent
        reports have been good. I'm sorry you weren't
        enraptured, but it sounds like you nonetheless
        perceived the kitchen's Core of Deliciousness, so I'm
        not going to panic about the possibility of their
        having lost their chef or otherwise gone downhill. Try
        again sometime?

        The bread served at Yemen Cafe (baked in a tandoori) is
        one of the several intriguing touches that show that
        Yemen was close to India/Afghanistan on the historical
        spice routes.

        I know what you mean about the manual lamb ripping; any
        outsider who insists on eating with fork and knife
        there is being so unbelievably gauche that it almost
        defies imagination.

        1. Can you describe the differences between baking powder
          raised naan and yeast raised naan?

          4 Replies
          1. re: celia

            yeah, maybe I am on a crusade but I think we are
            seeing the degradation of a traditional food here, and
            its worth noting.

            Traditionally naan (unlike parathas, poori, roti etc
            which are cooked on a grill or in deep fat without
            leavening) are raised with yeast. As with western
            breads, pizza, fresh pitas, so called afghan bread
            (there called naan also) etc. the fermentation of the
            yeast raising develops charactistic bready flavors and
            texture in the dough which most people find pleasing.
            Pitas and the varios naans which can be bought
            packaged in indian stores, which are yeast raised, can
            be roasted at home and are more authentic, at least in
            taste, than the quick naan.

            Some inexpensive restaurants now appear to make their
            naan with bisquick or self-rising flour, which is
            basically flour with salt and baking powder or other
            leavening added. Add water. Think of a bisquik
            pancake made without milk or egg (a la a boyscout
            campout) and you've go it. Slap this dough mix on the
            side of a tandoor, bake and you have instant naan. No
            rising, kneading, etc required. I assume they do this
            because breadmaking requires an additional skill, and
            the time and care involved in handling yeast dough is
            more complex than the quick version. The tandoor-
            cooked quick naan looks the same as yeast raised, and
            the charred bits do add a little flavor.

            But for me, the restaurant experience is diminished by
            this shortcut, more so if the chutnies are no good.

            The fried and griddle breads, dosai, paratha, roti,
            etc may be better bets since they are traditionally
            cooked without leaven, may in some cases be bought
            from outside specialist producers and are not subject
            to this bastardization.

            1. re: jen kalb

              Thanks for the excellent explanation.

              1. re: jen kalb
                jonathan gold

                And to take things one step farther is Tabla's contribution to the artform: the cinammon-raisin paratha.


                And Shiva sheds a tear.

                1. re: jen kalb


                  No need to excuse yourself for "being on a crusade" --
                  I think it's totally beyond the pale to make naan with
                  chemical leavening. What would you think if you went to
                  a French bakery and bought a baguette which turned out
                  to be quick-leavened?

                  Not only the flavor is missing when bread is made
                  without yeast; also the crumb has no texture and the
                  crust is not developed.