2/24 Curry Dive/Tandoorloin - Punjab Kabob House
Last night, the curry dive continued in SFs Tandoorloin at the Punjab Kabob House, 101 Eddy St. at Mason. The restaurant is self service, ordering at the counter. Decor is bright and cheerful. Service is friendly. The location is convenient to BART and the Take-Out business is brisk.
Lamb Biryani (Malik)
Seekh Kabab (Alex)
Chicken Vindaloo (Martin)
Chicken Tikka Karahi
Lamb Tikka Karahi (Melanie H.)
Tandoori Fish (Alejandro)
Bengan Bhurta (Suraj)
Daal Makhni (Shalini)
Chana Masala (Seth)
Palak Paneer (Melanie W.)
Aloo Gobhi: (Cynthia) Cauliflower and Potatoes cooked with cumin, herbs & spices. Traditionally, this dish is prepared dry, but this dish was well sauced and the cauliflower was crunchy fresh not meltinly soft and sweet.
Kheer: rice pudding with rose water, almonds and pistachio, light fare and undistinguished.
Mango Ice Cream: tasted like commercially-processed fluffy ice cream.
Total w/tip:$15 per person. Special thanks to Melanie for the wine we all enjoyed. With Shalini guiding our Punjab forage, we were hoping to find flavors of mustard oil, typical in this regional fare. Its not in evidence in these dishes, perhaps because mustard oil is not approved for cooking by the FDA.
Thanks to Cynthia for organizing a very fun chowdown. I enjoyed the food at Punjab Kabob House overall.
I was assigned to report the Lamb Biryani, which I thought was quite good. The lamb had been cooked for a long time yet it was still very moist and tender. The rice had the right consistency and was very tasty. My only complaint was that it could have had more vegetables in it (such as tomatoes and onions). Overall, a good biryani, though I still prefer the version at Nan-n-Curry. The chicken biryani that we ordered later was not nearly as good however.
I also enjoyed the Nihari a lot. The sauce was wonderfully thick and flavorful, and the beef had been braised perfectly. I also enjoyed the Seekh Kabab, which was nicely spiced and had good texture. I prefer the Shalimar version, which is crispier on the outside while still remaining moist inside. Another good dish was the Lamb Tikka Karahi, which had a touch of cream to it to give it some richness, and some good stir fried vegetables to go along with the lamb cubes. Again, the chicken version of that dish we ordered later was less successful. The tandoori fish (catfish) was also quite good. It seemed to be the most popular dishes of the night, though it didn't rank quite that high for me.
The vegetable dishes were not very inspiring, especially the Palak Paneer, which combined the blandest spinach I've had in an Indian restaurant with undercooked paneer cubes. The desserts were not very good either, in particular the artificial tasting mango ice cream. The naans on the other hand were quite competent, as was the plain basmati rice.
The Tandoori Fish was my favorite dish. One serving included 3-4 catfish steaks, served on the bone and with the skin. The meat of the fish tasted fresh, moist, and tender. A real hit in my opinion.
This was my first chowhound event, and I loved it. Thanks for organizing, Cynthia!
Let's see, I'm supposed to report on the palak paneer. Didn't like it, much too bland, and Malik sitting next to me said it was the worst that he'd ever tasted. Otoh, Alejandro said he liked the freshness of the spinach. One of the values of having a crowd of 'hounds taste the same food, and more than one person report in is that we can capture these diverse opinions readily. I would give it some points for having squeaky fresh cubes of cheese too.
The vegetable dishes were uniformly disappointing. The eggplant was nothing like what I'd had my first visit here. Later the owner came out to check in with us and we learned that he had taken a break from cooking...hmmm, maybe that was the problem?
I'll offer a dissenting opinion on the nihari, variously described here as the tasteless, gray stuff. (G) At the "kiddie" table where I was seating, I mentioned to the others that they should eat the nihari first, as its seasoning were subtle and would not be appreciated after trying the spicier dishes. This may be why I liked it more than most. This is only the third version I've had, and I'd place it in between Shalimar's and Darbar's. The chunks of beef were braised until fork tender and were still succulent and not stringy. The sauce seemed to be thickened with some grain or flour and not just the gelatin. It was spicier than Shalimar's, but had no firey spices like Darbar's, just brown, aromatic nuances.
My favorite dish was the seekh kabab, although, again, it was not nearly as deftly seasoned as on my first visit here. Also liked the tenderness of the plain naan and the onion naan. The onions in were diced very finely and almost melted into the naan.
the chana masala was awful--the worst dish I'd say. The garbanzo beans were mushy, way overcooked, and the flavoring too simple. The flavor was more like American food than Indian food. I once had chana masala at an Indian restaurant in Berkeley and afterwards went up to the counter to ask what spices they had used. Someone brought out a little box--it was the same box I had (purchased at Vik's). They are doing something unusual here and it isn't working.
It seems like the consensus was that Punjab was so-so overall, but there were a couple of dishes that I thought were good, including Lamb (& Chicken) Tikka Karahi. The lamb version of this (tied with the sizzling tandoori catfish) was my favorite dish last night. It's a sauteed curry dish with slivered onions, peppers and meat -- this one had a tangy cheesy flavor that I was assuming was yogurt. It had a slightly creamy texture, but less so than with the tikka masala. The lamb chunks were not very tender, but they did have a lot of flavor, and I preferred the lamb version to the chicken, which had a milder flavor that didn't pick up the flavors as well.
Many of the other dishes were less successful, including one dish with grayish meat (lamb? beef?) in a thin brownish gray sauce with no flavor. I can't remember what it was called -- perhaps someone else will review it.
As always, it was great to eat with the hounds, meet interesting new people and try lots of dishes. Thanks, Cynthia, for organizing, and Melanie for the tasty wines!
Adding to the discussion we had at the chowdown about mustard oil, here are a few excerpts from a website that I refer to for any spice inquiries. I've also included a link to the website. Simply go to the link and click on "black mustard" in the list of spices if you would like more information.
Black mustard contains about 1% sinigrin (allylglucosinolate), a thioglycoside-like compound (a so-called glucosinolate) of ally isothiocyanate with glucose. By action of the enzyme myrosinase, allyl isothiocyanate, a pungent, lachrymatory and volatile compound, is liberated (0.7% of the dried seed). Besides allyl isothiocyanate, in Romanian Brown Mustard another related compound is found, namely crotylisothiocyanate (2-butenylisothiocyanate).
Isothiocyanates are also the main ingredients of white mustard, horseradish, wasabi, rocket and cress, all of which belong to the same plant family. The more distantly related capers similarly owe their pungency to an isothiocyanate.
Note that isothiocyanates are highly toxic and can be used as chemical weapons, which is their biological function in the discussed plants anyway. To protect the plant organism from the isothiocyanates, they are glycosidically bound as glucosinolates (formerly called thioglycosides) and get liberated only if cells are damaged (which is supposed to have been caused by an eating animal).
And some more....
Black mustard is more important as a spice and oil plant, especially in India. Mustard oil, sometimes available in the West, is popular all over Northern India and especially indispensable for the true taste of Bengali cuisine. Bengali cooking uses mustard oil as a cooking medium, thereby achieving a characteristic flavour, particularily, since intensive spices are used with moderation in Bengal (see also nigella). Mustard oil produced in Bengal often contains enough isothiocynates to have a pungent mustard flavour and is often used as a flavouring, e.g., by drippling the oil over boiled vegetables before serving. Such oil is difficult to obtain outside of India, and people in the West will have to substitute it by mustard paste (preferably of dijon type, see white mustard) or mustard powder (of the Colman type, see also white mustard); I wonder whether freshly grated horseradish might also work.
However, because of the erucic acid and maybe also the isothiocyanates, mustard oil is illegal to be traded as a foodstuff in most western countries, including the EU and the USA. To circumvent the paternistic laws, Indian food shops will usually offer it labeled For external use only, which is not needed to be taken seriously, although mustard oil does have cosmetic use in India. Note that in India, mustard oil is usually heated very strongly, up to the smoking point, and then allowed to cool down to regular cooking temperature before the cooking starts. Although I don't know for sure, this heating procedure might be useful for detoxification (or it might just improve the taste); in any case, it's a good idea to follow that praxis. See sesame for a general discussion on vegetable oils.
re: Shalini Bhalla
Good summary of mustard oil by Shalini, thanks.
I just want to add that as an unfortunate side effect of this, you simply cannot find good quality mustard oil over here in the USA. I have searched high and low, and have come up with nothing. I now get mine from India.
One of the signs of a good quality mustard oil is its pungency.
In addition to being used as a cooking oil, mustard oil is also used (by Bengalis mostly, but also to some extent by other North Indian communities):
* as a condiment to be had with snacks, sometimes to be simply had mixed with warm rice and some salt.
* as a moisturizer, to be applied to your skin!
* as a decongestant -- if you sniff some highly pungent mustard oil, that can cure any congestion you might have inside your nostrils or otherwise :-)
You can try Viks in Berkeley. I buy Indian mustard oil from there. They have small 500 ml bottles and look for the label "Made in India". And it ofcourse says "For massage purposes only".
But be careful, they have 2 kinds. One is imported from Europe and the other is Indian. The European version has the same problem that you describe - doesnt have any flavor or taste. One might as well use vegetable oil.