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Grain and Salt: Go. Now.

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GRAIN AND SALT, CAMBRIDGE STREET, ALLSTON

Dudes, this is the real thing. The first Desi place in greater Boston that will serve you interesting food with honest flavors (and does it with fresh, quality ingredients). If this place shuts down due to lack of business, I will cry. Really! Because I will have to drive to Waltham more often!

You can see the menu here: http://boston.menupages.com/restauran...

I tried a few dishes, getting a couple Pakistani stews and a couple British-North-Indian-Restaurant standards. So. Good.

* Seekh kebab, despite a dry texture, was exploding with flavor. This is great meat. It was a good portion, served with minty red onions.

* Palak paneer had a great warm garam masala flavor, and tasted more of spinach than of cream. I do like the Tamarind Bay take on this dish, but let's face it, if you put as much dairyfat in something as TB does, you're taking the easy way out. The GS version tastes homemade.

* Haleem was creamy and a little bit mucilaginous (in a good way). There were some nice chunks of beef in there, not chopped as small as in other versions of this dish I've had. The spice was very subtle and I couldn't quite figure out what went into it.

* Paya (here, chunks of cow foot in a thin sauce) had a perfectly bouncy, long-cooked texture, with a beautiful subtle spicing. It had a certain amount of anise flavor that was reminiscent of the tendon in a good bowl of pho. The price, however, was excessive ($10 or $12 for 2 big chunks of foot).

The latter two dishes were Friday-Saturday-Sunday specials. They also have nihari on the menu but it wasn't available today. The default "medium" level of spice was actually significantly spicy, just enough to give a good flavor to the food. They will go up or down in heat as requested.

The weak point was actually the complementary rice included with the order. It was on the dry side (maybe I should've microwaved it a bit more before eating it) and had a lot of broken grains in it. It did have a nice dose of cardamom flavor and fried onions mixed in.

I'm really psyched about this place because the next time an unadventurous eater suggest we go out for Indian, I can take them to Grain and Salt, even order some familiar Brit-English standards, and trust that they'll be prepared in a careful, non-obvious way.

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  1. What is the concept of the restaurant? You mention "Brit-Indian" a few times, so is that the idea? How does it compare to Tamarind Bay (which, IMHO, is serving really authentic and unique Indian food as well)?

    I'll be honest, looking at the menu online I am not impressed. The items listed there are very "anglicized" Indian food.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Sgt Snackers

      The chef at G&S is from the UK. There are other good Indian places in the area such as Tamarind Bay, although the comparison can be somewhat apples and oranges because of the regional diversity of Indian cuisine. But among the Northern Indian places that have menus centred on Punjabi, Moghal cuisines, G&S ranks very high on my list. I think Kebab Factory would be a good place to compare against, and I might give G&S a slight edge to KF.

      1. re: limster

        Limster, I see I'm not the only one chowhounding it at midnight on a Saturday :-)
        I was responding to the OP's comment that G&S is "the first Desi place in greater Boston that will serve you interesting food with honest flavors." That's a pretty strong statement so I'm wondering if the food at G&S is really that good! Will have to check it out.

        1. re: Sgt Snackers

          Having spent a few years trying to learn how to cook Indian food in my own kitchen, I'm by no means an old hand at it, but I have some grasp of the flavors and where they come from. I feel like 99% of Boston's many Indian restaurants prepare the "Indian restaurant" canon of dishes in an unexciting, copycat sort of way, generally minimizing the complexity and intensity of the spice flavors. I'll agree that tamarind bay expands upon this by offering a greater variety of regional dishes, and presenting them in a pretty environment, but I just didn't get that special feeling when eating dinner there, where I can really connect with whoever put the flavors together. So far, there are only two places that have passed that test: Kabab and Tandoor in Waltham, and Grain and Salt.

          1. re: Sgt Snackers

            The food at G&S was impressive, but IMHO, there are a reasonable number of Indian places in the area that already serve interesting food with honest flavours, especially those that focus on their own specific region.

            But there's another point, which is some of those comparisons can be very difficult to make, because there is no monolithic Indian cuisine. I think what most people call "Indian" here is largely Punjabi, with a dash of Kashmiri and Mughal or Pakistani. (Which is hugely different from the "Indian" that I grew up with, consisting mostly of Tamil food.)

            Many CHs that I've done my best to learn from consistently point out that India is a tremendously diverse country with over a hundred languages and corresponding cuisines. The blends of spices and flavours can be very different and they draw from different palettes. I don't know of a good way of comparing a Bengali restaurant with a Tamil one or a Hyderabadii place with its Goan counterpart.

            Thus, at some level, Tamarind Bay is quite a different restaurant from G&S. But I certainly wouldn't call their raw banana dumplings or mysore chilli chicken any less than interesting or honest (don't think those banana dumplings ar eon the menu anymore). And one could say the same of dishes such as the baigan bharta, banana blossoms or caramelized milk yogurt at Royal India/Bengal, the rava masala dosa at Udupi Bhavan before they moved to Lowell (haven't been to the new place). Friends rave about Dakshin, especially their garlic curry (I've yet to check them out).

            I think the Desi Chinese stuff at G&S would also be fun to try. Namaskar has them but it's not their strength, and India Dhaba (also in Allston) make a tasty but basic version.

            1. re: limster

              Is there even a 100% Tamil or Hyderabadi restaurant around here? The thing is that so many restaurants serve a mix of regional dishes and dishes that were developed outside of India itself, we end up just comparing these places on the basis of being "Indian."

              My basis for describing flavors that are interesting and honest is really a product of the dominant trends in "Indian" food. My definition of these things has a lot to do with uniqueness, not absolute quality (though in my personal opinion, these places have that as well).

              1. re: Luther

                You and Limster are dead on that it's not really fair to lump all Indian restaurants into the same category - unfortunately it's true that few restaurants have a really STRONG regional influence, since they tend to have menus that draw on a wide range of (primarily) North Indian influences. Just from looking at the G&S menu, though, lots of those dishes appear on other typical North Indian restaurants (Apart from the Indian Chinese stuff of course) which is why I was less thrilled just from the menu. But, I'm going to take your word on it and check it out next week :-)

                1. re: Luther

                  "Is there even a 100% Tamil or Hyderabadi restaurant around here?"

                  Not as far as I know. Udipi Bhavan's menu was dominated by Tamil dishes but there were concessions with a few Punjabi dishes. While Rani claims a Hyderabadi bent, they also made dishes from a fairly large geographical area.

                  It's possible that they hoping to get more customers by offering something more "familiar" with the locals, while being able to serve their own native cuisine. It's not confined to Indian food. You'll see a number of Cantonese or Chinese-American dishes at Sichuan Restaurants for the same reason.

                  (This stuff below is not part of my reply to Luther, but a more general point that I'd like to make.) Sometimes, it's worth the effort to figure out where the heart of the kitchen is, and distinguish that from the stuff they're cooking to cater to a very broad audience. Using the Kung Pao shrimp to compare a Cantonese place to a Sichuan one may not be the most useful.

                  In the same vein, it's not useful to lump the "European" places together even though they show superficial similarities.

                  Most of the hounds I admire take the pains to understand and appreciate the details of each cuisine so that they're in a better position to find the delicious needle in a haystack, and I just try to do my best to keep up with the bar that they've set.

                  1. re: Luther

                    Kabab and Tandoor claims to be Hyderabadi, but I don't really know. I feel like "uniqueness" is good but not worth anything if the quality isn't good.

                    -----
                    Kabab & Tandoor
                    699 Main St, Waltham, MA

                    1. re: winq

                      Kabab and Tandoor's baingan bhurta is as Hyderabadi as it gets, but they try serving things like biryani (their biryani was really a weak pulao and nowhere close to a Hyderabadi biryani). They also have some typical Hyderabadi desserts like Khubani ka meetha (made from dry apricots) though I've never had room to try them.

          2. What's with the Indian Chinese stuff? Is it just an Indian chef cooking Chinese dishes or is there something special?

            4 Replies
            1. re: fenian

              This is actually something unique found in India and it's kind of hard to describe. There's a sizeable population of Chinese in India and what has evolved over time is a strange adaptation of traditional Chinese dishes to Indian cooking methods and somewhat to taste. As an example a "sichuan chicken" served in one of the Chinese restaurant chains in India is usually large chunks of chicken breast swimming in this heavy, somewhat sweet and spicy red sauce (not entirely unlike some renditions of "sweet and sour" chicken in the US).

              I have not tried this at G&S and I think it's interesting that they're bringing this style of cooking to the US - it's a bit of an oddity but possibly worth a try.

              1. re: Sgt Snackers

                I work with a woman from Mumbai and she swoons over Indian Chinese food--it's the thing she's most homesick for.

                1. re: Sgt Snackers

                  I would also like to try something from their menu of Gross Greek Pizza specialties. It's a huge glossy takeout menu worth of pizza shop items! Standing in the restaurant, it's not really clear where this stuff would be cooked... but if it were alongside the Indian food, that would be pretty neat.

                2. re: fenian

                  Long time reader, first time poster.

                  Ate at G&S last night. Was underwhelmed. The room is lovely, the service is fantastic, and it just feels like it ought to be awesome, but it didn't move me or my DC. I had the chicken chilly off the desi chinese menu, which was my favorite item, but the chicken chunks themselves weren't the best cuts of meat. Spicy and sweet, good fresh veggies. DC had the tikka masala (I know, I know) which was primarily ghee after five minutes of sitting on the table and we shared the yellow Dal. Both dishes were nicely presented and didn't taste bad, but the spicing was underwhelming. Great lassi.

                  I'll be hitting India Dhaba to try the Desi Chinese, but I'd have to recommend India Quality as remaining my #1 choice for boston...

                3. Gosh, they also have cabbage cheese and ice cream made from leeches. I'm going to have to make a visit soon!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: fenian

                    I do hope you mean ice cream made from lichees ;-) Oh, just noticed they spell it "leeches" on their menu.

                  2. Ok here's my skinny, and I eat this stuff all the time. Seek Kebab with the minced lamb, mint and onion is the best thing on the menu. Their Murgh Achari (first chicken dish on menu) was as tasty and traditional as it gets, flavors of fennel bursting through the stew.
                    Ate there 3 times, and thought taste wise was the best Pakistani/Indian I had eaten in Boston in the last 10 years. HOWEVER, they also have the SMALLEST portion sizes I have ever seen relative to any other place. For $11, im looking for more than 1/4 lb or 3 bites of chicken. Unfortunately, this seems to be a signature whether you eat in or take out. On another lighter note, the tea is also the most flavorful Chai ive had! I would try this place for lunch, but never again for dinner. The chinese was quite tasty in you know what Indian chinese food tastes like. Same story with the portions though...sucks because i would eat at this place everyday too...

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                    1. I think grain and salt is over priced especially after eating at places like haandi in NYC and Shalimar in SF. I think Medina Market on brighton ave. is just as good if not better and serves a larger range of food, and dishes are like 7-9 bucks. Try the Nihari a traditional beef stew it is delicious and tasty, medina market is great!

                      1. A couple of friends and I went to Grain and Salt last night and had a fantastic meal. We ordered four vegetarian entrees as well as mango lasies and samosas. Everything was delicious and not to oily. Easily one of the better Indian places I've been to in Boston. One worry...there were not many people there for a Sat. night. If you love this place, make sure to go. I would hate to see another great Chowhound find dissapear!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: bostonveg

                          I am vegetarian, and love Grain and Salt. The first time we went, we asked the waiter for recommendations. He said he could live on the Palak Paneer, it was that good. We ordered it, and were not let down. SOO yummy! I also love their Bhindi Masala. The past few times we've been on week nights, and the restaurant has been pretty empty. I love this restaurant, and like Luther, I would hate to see it close for lack of business.

                          IMHO, the vegetarian selection is MUCH better the India Quality. The ingredients are fresher, and taste brighter, especially the naan.

                        2. I agree with readers saying to go if you want it to stay. It's a little (and I mean about half a block) off the beaten path in Allston. The food is awesome and the owner is the best. He was so proud to be named one of the Boston Globe's "Best of the New" - I think it came out this weekend - that he brought the letter to our table. His pride and devotion to quality are evident in the food.

                          This is one of those few restaurants that I can't stop thinking of since I've been and almost feel anxiety over it not making it. So PLEASE go and see for yourselves. I guarantee you'll be glad you did.