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Oct 3, 2007 06:11 PM

Deshi Biryani -- second best Bengali in Jackson Heights

I always missed Grameen. It was a cut above all the other 74th Street restaurants and it wasn't open all that long before it went out of business and was replaced by a joint serving Indian Chinese chow. So I was thrilled to read Sietsema's column in the Village Voice last week and learn that it's now back to Bengali food again. I went there today with high hopes.

I delayed my visit till after sundown. It's Ramadan and it wouldn't be fair to the other patrons, standing around hungrily waiting for sunset, to watch me stuffing my face. The place was packed with families breaking their fast. The menu is mostly generic northern Indian, kormas and even chicken tikka masala, as well as the biryanis Sietsema praised. There are a few vegetarian Bengali dishes too. I ordered a goat rogan josh. Each dish is cooked to order so it took a while to arrive. It was a pleasant place to wait, what with the happy families eating, and the neat decor, which features walls paneled in light wood and straw matting. (same decor as Grameen) Now I know that people say it's best to let the sauce sit for a few hours to allow the spices to melt together, but the dishes must be partly prepped beforehand because the gravy had melded together to form an incredibly rich and savory accompaniment to the chunks of tender goat. It was soooo good!!

No, it's not as good as Spicy Mina's, and if you grew up in a Bengali family it doesn't begin to compare with your mom's cooking, but if you are around 74th street and want a good curry, this would be a very good choice. And at $10 including rice and salad it's a good deal cheaper than Mina's.

Deshi Biryani
75-18 37th Av
(718) 803-6232

Sietsema review in the Village Voice:

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  1. There had been Deshi Biryani before, a steam table type place with a more hole-in-the-wall decor, it now looks quite a bit more posh. And I recall it being cheaper than $10 for a filling enough meal, will have to try it again soon.

    1. A rogan josh properly cooked would normally take several hours - I dont know what this dish "cooked to order" would be, exactly. - not as good, most likely, as if it were pre-prepared. All of these meat stews are better reheated too.

      13 Replies
      1. re: jen kalb


        perhaps you missed the thread on which i ranted about the "cooked to order" thing with indian food, but let's not take poor brian s to task again for it. I am in agreement that "cooked to order" is not always what we want in indian food (cooked the day before and reheated is often what i want) but not sure that we can get brian s to agree with us.

        I'll link to the thread if i can find it.

        1. re: missmasala

          Thank you for that!

          I think as I said above that the sauce had been mostly made "beforehand because the gravy had melded together to form an incredibly rich and savory accompaniment" So it wasn't really "cooked to order" but it wasn't just scooped out of a steam table tray either.

          Oh, and I can't resist quoting something Jim Leff wrote about this restaurant before they switched to their present setup:

          "The problem with this place is the same as at all the other Bangladeshi restaurants in the area (which means just about all the restaurants in the area). They do a steam table without steam, where stuff sits all day at room temperature, and they nuke to rewarm. For various reasons, I don't feel this is the best way to do things."

          1. re: Brian S


            here's the thread with the "cooked to order" discussion.

            (okay, i don't actually know how to link to a thread, so you'll have to copy and paste that. sorry!)

            1. re: missmasala

              You linked it! The new board does the link automatically. I keep meaning to go back to Kababish but there are just so many other restaurants I want to try!

              1. re: missmasala

                Ha, I definitely missed it. Its probably dangerous to have stuff sitting around all day at room temperature, tho many times restuarants run through a dish and bring out more, so it may not be all day - the nuking would likely not heat it to a high enough temperature. Refrigeration would definitely be safer if they are not keeping the food hot. I mean, if its going to be nuked anyway (thats what we usually do we our leftovers and pre-prepared food.

                I seriously doubt if many restaurants in NY would make a biryani in that classic layered and baked way here - if so - it would be served to a party. probably, not put on a steam table. At good restaurants I have been to its more likely to be mixed up - almost like fried rice - with the nuts, onions, herbs, whole spices sauteed with the rice and then any curry layered in.

                1. re: missmasala

                  I took your advice and went to a steam table place, where the food is NOT cooked to order. I liked it a lot, but I liked Deshi more. Read the full story.

                2. re: Brian S

                  I tend to come down on the long-cooked side of this continuing discussion, having cooked Indian food and observed the advantages of a night or two in the fridge.

                  But one "cooked to order" step that may be at work here is the addition of freshly fried spices - a tadka, baghaar, etc. A saag like the one Brian reports on below would benefit from long cooking but also from a shot of seasoned oil before serving. Same goes for many dals or meat or vegetable stews.

                  1. re: squid kun

                    totally agreed.

                    freshly fried spices like a tarka are great and might be the "cooked to order" difference. If so, great!

                3. re: missmasala

                  Ah, yes. The reason why I'm scared of many cooked to order desi dishes :)

                  When I make rogan gosht I start cooking it in the early afternoon to be ready for a LATE dinner (I've been doing loads of slow cooking now that I'm in London so I can read while it cooks. Haleem is my other weekly fall back.)

                  My favorite Bengali place has many of it's dishes in the stereotypical steam table arrangement with about 1/3 of the menu arriving cooked to order. Oh yeah, Deshi Biryani is pretty good. My introducer to all that is Bengali (and amiable ex GF) approved of their food and I tried some of their biryani which she brought for me. Pretty good stuff.

                  I like most of the Bengali fish dishes "cooked to order" and I think Mina does a good mustard fish (not exactly home cooked and the last time I went there I was REALLY REALLY REALLY disappointed in my meal so I dunno... Ghoroa feels so much more reliable sometimes... And she was the only one cooking too... I also find Mina's insultingly expensive for Jackson Heights at times) but there are a lot of things which I don't want cooked to order.

                  Totally unrelated, but does anyone have a nice recipe for a heart, liver and kidney curry?

                  1. re: JFores

                    > there are a lot of things which I don't want cooked to order.

                    Agreed! Mustard fish, sure. Rogan gosht, no way.

                    What else do you like at Deshi Biryani and Ghoroa?

                    1. re: squid kun

                      I haven't had anything besides a taste of biyani from there. With Ghoroa... oh wow I get so much... For a snack, the sikh kebabs are very very good (though totally not Bengali.) I like their heart, liver and kidney curry, the lamb chops are very tasty, I'll order the fish if I don't see it because like I said I prefer my fish cooked fresh, I really like the small river fish curry, the naan is very very good so it's always nice to pair with meats, the Bihari kebab is actually very very good, etc. There's a lot that I order there. I actually prefer the long fish when they have them over the tilapia. It's somewhat rare that they have those there (though I can find them in London with ease! One of the other good things about this city.) If you're there on I think Friday they make chicken pulao which is exactly what it says it is and is possibly the best thing I've ever had from a desi restaurant. That's the one thing on their menu which myself (and my Bengali companion) both felt could have come out of a home kitchen, that's how good it was. Oh, make sure you never get the Dhaka lassi. One of the only mistakes I've made since going there. Mmmm so much sugar that it's still solid and crunchy in liquefied yogurt.... not my favorite... Ghoroa's day to day specials (there aren't many) are usually REALLY excellent.

                      1. re: JFores

                        I went to Ghoroa on your recommendation a month ago and when I saw they had no food cooked to order, I left. Now I wish I had stayed. I don't know if I want to make the long return trip, though... 40 minutes from Manhattan.

                        Another thing about Ghoroa... when I went it was empty, while nearby Sagar Restaurant was doing great business.

                        1. re: Brian S

                          Sagor's excellent as well and some people regard it as being better. I like Sagor but I didn't go there too often because whenever I was over there I was usually with my ex GF and that restaurant is actually owned by one of her relatives. The food at Sagor is very good though. Ghoroa has a tendency to fill up tremendously at one or two times during the day, though. Definitely give Sagor a more detailed try then I have. I've had the fish there and I actually preferred the fish at Ghoroa.

              2. Stuffed paratha sounds good, too ...

                Deshi Biryani
                75-18 37th Ave, Queens, NY 11372

                1. I went once a few days ago (take out) and ordered the Signature Dish the Kachi Biryani. I didn't know that this dish bakes for hours. It was awful. Tasteless over cooked rice and dry overcooked tasteless meat. It cames with a tiny salad also awful. I may return and order some appetizers which received good reviews (chicken lolly, dim aloo chop, tomato vara, begon varta and mughlai paratha). I'll also try the $5.95 lunch.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Mike V

                    the vartas -- veggie side dishes -- are all really great. before they upscaled, they offered them in half-portions (for half price), which made it easy to make your own thali, but they seem to have stopped that practice. still, the greens, hte tomato one and the cabbage are all excellent. breads across the board are top notch.

                  2. I went back a few hours ago and ordered beef saag. I remember that dish from my 6th Street days as a gloppy beige curry with some canned spinach floating in it. What I got tonight could not have been more different. Big hunks of mutton (yes, mutton) sedately reclined on a bed of fresh spinach freshly cooked in mustard oil with different spices. (No curry powder here!) It was mind-blowing.

                    Thank you for traveling the long distance to eat here, said the woman who runs the front of the house, who reminds me a lot of Mina and who knows I come from Manhattan. It was worth it, I said, and meant it.

                    It looked a lot like this photo I found on the Internet, except that big cubes of mutton replaced the cheese.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Brian S

                      By "mutton," do you mean an adult sheep (2+ years old)? Asians (specially from the Subcontinent) seem to use the term loosely for goat, lamb or adult sheep. Adult sheep is difficult to find in US restaurants since it is feared as being too gamey. If Deshi is serving some bona fide old sheep, I am so there.

                      Where's the beef?

                      1. re: Joe MacBu

                        It's probably lamb.

                        I know old sheep is hard to find. At Keen's in Manhattan, people pay $42 for "mutton chops" which are really lamb.