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Sep 16, 2008 01:20 PM

Great dinner at Spicy Mina's

I have glanced at these chow boards for quite a while now and I have seen mixed reviews regarding Spicy Mina's in Woodside.

Well, the other day on was on the way home from JFK and I decided to drag my wife and my in-laws to try the place. My wife and her parents are from Calcutta so I was really interested in getting their opinon.

We started with the Fuska appetizer and we were all very pleased. After that, we ordered chicken Vindaloo, mixed grill tandoori, nan bread, special dal fry and the fish kofta curry. All of us agreed that the food was execllent...we were all very impressed. I especially loved the fish kofta curry. My wife's parents then started speaking to Mina in Bengali and she came out with some special desserts for the table. I don't know exactly what they were, but they tasted great.

Overall, we had a great experience there. I know people say that the place is hit or miss, but on this night, the food was great. If I am in Queens again, I will definatley go back.

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  1. All I can say is that I have eaten there about 12 times. 2 have been spectacular, 8 were mediocre, and 2 were downright disgusting and inedible. The inedible meals had really low quality meat which was poorly cooked and quite gnarly, topped off with sauces that seemed like they were thrown together at the last minute. The bes of the meals seemed like a lot of preparation went into them, and they were presented in a royal fashion. This staggering range is more than hit or miss. I don't know what her problem is, but one time my wife and I went in there and she was SLEEPING ON A TABLE TOP. Maybe that plays over in India, but we just turned around and walked out, never to return. I think maybe there are some 'mental issues' with Mina, but she can be a hell of a cook when she sets her mind to it.

    9 Replies
    1. re: NYJewboy

      I am not writing this to be contentious or to dispute anyone else's experience, but all of my experiences at Mina have been positive. I have had some wonderful meals there (palak paneer, samosa chat, dal fry among my favorites) and I have had some meals that were merely good. Mina and the staff have been consistently attentive and warm; I am looking forward to returning.

      1. re: NYJewboy

        that's funny, that's not something that would ever bother me. dirty feet on the tabletop? sure. bathing on the tabletop? yes. but sleeping? no, to me it just means that she works hard and doesn't get enough sleep.

        mind you, if this was in the middle of the dinner hour, that would be wierd.

        i can't speak to spicy mina's food quality, as i have never eaten there.

        1. re: NYJewboy

          NYJB, I feel your pain. I've had Mina's cooking 6 or 7 times. Most of those meals were in the early days of Angon and one at her current place. One meal was stellar but the others were just OK. The question I ask myself whenever I'm in that area of Queens is "why should I go to Mina's and roll the dice when Sripraphai is 3 blocks away and I can be guaranteed of getting a great meal?"

          The answer is always Sri. It's too bad because I'd certainly love to have a great Indian meal but unfortunately, it's unlikely that Mina's is going to serve one.

          1. re: Bob Martinez

            As great as the 2 stellar meals were, the mediocre (and bad) ones couldn't hold a candle to Sri. Even at their worst, and they have been off, Sri is still amazing. When the standards are that high being 'off' is still really good. Not so with Mina.

            As for the sleeping on the table, I thought it was unprofessional and very unappetizing. Maybe it is a cultural thing. If so, and if lin a third world country that is accepted, it is not here and not by me.

            1. re: NYJewboy

              I'm pretty sure it is a cultural thing, but if it put you off--there's no reason to go back.

              1. re: NYJewboy

                I have been to Mina's 4 or 5 times over the past year and the dishes (covering a good portion of the menu) have mostly been very very good. Some have been outstanding and would themselves easily warrant return visits. This is not your standard restaurant fare and at its best could never be replicated on a mass production basis like Sripraphai. Obviously I cannot account for your experiences or your taste, but Sri represents a very different approach to preparation and dining relative to Mina's - it's apples and oranges. Essentially a useless comparison. As has often been noted, Mina's is the opposite of the conveyor belt approach to dining, with mostly very positive results in my view. Incidentally, I've found various dishes at Sri uninspired and do not find them to be especially consistent in general. In addition to the occasional lackluster meal I'm also somewhat turned off by the rushed, impersonal diner-like ambience. Of course, no question that at its best Sri is also wonderful.

                1. re: burton

                  The backhanded references to Sripraphai being "mass production" and a "conveyor belt operation" are really quite amusing.

                  Lets cut to the chase - Sri consistently serves good to great meals. Mina's does not. The complaints about Mina's inconsistency have been around for over five years and have come from a wide range of posters.

                  The difference between Sripraphai and Mina's is the difference between a professional operation and sloppy amateurism. Successful restaurants learn how to make that jump. Unsuccessful restaurants are often empty. The last time I drove past Mina's no one was there. There's a reason for that.

                  1. re: Bob Martinez

                    Glad you picked up on the tongue in cheek tone. But seriously, if the criteria suggested above were ever to be applied then McDonalds - or perhaps Olive Garden - would undeniably be the culinary lodestar, the epitome of a 'professional operation'. If that's the standard I'll take 'sloppy amateurism' any day. I also enjoyed the defunct Burmese Cafe in Woodside, which frequently was empty. Little did I know its demise was due to sloppy amateurism. Live and learn.

                    1. re: burton

                      We are entering BizzarroWorld here where good is bad and bad is good. Are you seriously suggesting that every major restaurant that produces consistent results is somehow inferior to the inconsistent amateur places? Consistency isn't just a feature of chains like Olive Garden. What about Per Se?

                      Babbo? Momofuko Ko? Devi? Szechuan Gourmet?

                      All of them manage to be consistent and produce food at the highest level.

                      The reason your Burmese Cafe is defunct is because not enough people thought it was good. Consistency isn't some empty frill - it's what makes people into repeat customers.

                      That's why Mina's is often empty.

          2. re some of the comments below:

            After visiting India last fall, some things about Mina come together more for me- it has the feel and smell (down to using the smelly bottled gas and having various hangers on unclear roles which may make you vaguely uncomfortable) of a little indian homestyle restaurant, like for example the b&B we stayed at in Delhi, also the informality, unpredictability (including of price) and domesticity of such a place. I've never had a bad meal at Mina and I find it and her charming, but I can see how some people could find it unprofessional. Well, its not professional, by American or Indian standards - it remains a bangladeshi home cook trying to put across her food.

            23 Replies
            1. re: jen kalb

              "I've never had a bad meal at Mina and I find it and her charming, but I can see how some people could find it unprofessional. Well, its not professional, by American or Indian standards - it remains a bangladeshi home cook trying to put across her food."

              I haven't had a bad meal at Mina's various restaurants but I've sure had some mediocre ones. If Mina was my neighbor and occasionally invited me over for dinner I'd be happy to enjoy her cooking on those terms. But this is different - this is a *business*. We give her money, she gives us food. The standards are different.

              Mina is not my friend and I'm not in her house. If I go over there it's not to look at pictures of her kids and to chat about where I went on vacation. I'm a customer and I expect a certain level of professionalism. I really don't think that's too much to ask.

              1. re: Bob Martinez

                you and NYJewboy are making approximately the same point, one that has been made over and over through the years, as folks have wished Mina would conform a bit more to our expectations. but its clear that she is NOT going to change as much as we want her to change - her place is different, her food is variable - so live with it, go there or not. I was simply making the point that what she does works and is normal in her culture - as a business, whatever. Go there if you want to visit a little bit of the indian subcontinent, with some of the attendant irritations as well as the food. Or dont, but history has shown that she will only be able to adjust a little in our direction.

                1. re: jen kalb

                  If only Mina would call in some corporate consultants. Among other things, she might learn a thing or two about optimizing efficiency and return on investment. Perhaps a mere pipedream, I can picture the waitstaff in matching uniforms busily dropping off menus and refilling water glasses, glancing over to be sure all is well while snatching a credit card from a neighboring table...The possibilities for expansion, interior upgrades and menu revamping boggle the mind. But alas...such professionalism is not to be found here. Such a pity.

                  1. re: burton

                    thats what angon was supposed to be. it didnt work. she's back to doing what she is comfortable with, it seems.

                    I think the kitchen not the front of the house has always been the biggest issue. she doesnt have a commercial style production system back there.

                    1. re: burton

                      "If only Mina would call in some corporate consultants. Among other things, she might learn a thing or two about optimizing efficiency and return on investment."

                      That will happen right around the time DiFara's puts in a system to serve people in the sequence in which they placed their orders. :-)

                      1. re: Bob Martinez

                        or around the time alan harding takes a course like Food 101...

                    2. re: jen kalb

                      Interesting point jen. What chowhounders often fail to realize is that third world incompetence is usually tolerated here in the big city (to an extent) if great chow is the outcome. In itself it is NOT charming. This is not anthropology, it is dinner. So, when great chow does not happen, or happens too infrequently, then it is just an unpleasant throw back that reminds us why our ancestors came to America to begin with.

                      1. re: NYJewboy

                        if i can get transcendent, day-altering food 75 percent of the time and mediocrity 25 percent -- a la mina or di fara -- i'll bite far more often than i will at a place where i get an iron clad 100 percent guarantee of a pretty good meal. that's been my ratio over many years of dealing with the chefs in question, and i'll stick with both,

                        1. re: david sprague

                          In my 12 times at Mina's, 2 great meals ain't 25%

                          1. re: NYJewboy

                            well, in my 20 or so visits -- hey, it's walking distance :) -- two sub-par meals ain't bad...

                            1. re: david sprague

                              But 8 really mediocre meals and 2 disgusting ones IS bad, especially when you live far away and have to travel into the bowels of Queens...

                              1. re: NYJewboy

                                Those of us who LIVE here don't really consider it the 'bowels of Queens'. Just a neighborhood with some of the best food in New York City.

                                1. re: InWoodside

                                  No doubt there is great food there. It is what it is.

                                  1. re: NYJewboy

                                    Hey I'm 5 for 5 at Spicy Mina's - never had a meal that was less than very good and had some that were outstanding. I am puzzled that some combination of 'really mediocre' and 'disgusting' led you to 'travel into the bowels of Queens' from 'far away' again and again and again. Now that's perseverance (or perhaps something else but no need to speculate). Hail Mina!

                                    1. re: burton

                                      Yes, the something else was that it was amazing twice. That's worth drawing it out to a conclusion. I reached it: Mina is too inconsistent.

                                      1. re: NYJewboy

                                        Bob Martinez wrote: "We are entering BizzarroWorld here where good is bad and bad is good."
                                        It's not BizzarroWorld, but RedundantWorld. This argument has been going on forever.

                                        Bob's other posts hit the nail on the head. Mina charges prices equal or higher than most other Indian restaurants in Jackson Heights. For these prices we expect consistently good food and service. This isn't a $5 take-out joint where one bad meal would be acceptable. (Kababish does equally good food for a fraction of the price but it's take-out only. And their food is consistently good.)

                                        And the poor service is legendary. I've written before that I can't get friends and family to go to Mina because they've heard about the service issues. It was never a problem until my last visit when we asked for rice:
                                        "Could we get some rice please?"
                                        "You want rice?"
                                        "Yes, please."
                                        15 minutes we asked again. Then again. And again. Finally, 45 minutes after our entrees started arriving, we got our rice. That's unacceptable in my book. Obviously some people think this is quaint or quirky and don't mind.

                                        I've been going to Mina since she fiirst opened in Sunnyside and I really wanted to like her restaurant. It was a true Chowhound find and had so much potential. But I've given up.

                                        1. re: el jefe

                                          Actually the original post (to the extent anyone recalls it) and Jen Kalb's earlier post above capture the essence of Mina's perfectly. If you're seeking industrial consistency, clockwork efficiency and absolute predictability, look elsewhere. If you're willing to risk the occasional flaw for a shot at an exceptional meal, then run don't walk to Mina's. Note to Mina detractors: the SEC just restricted short sales. Take a hint.

                                          1. re: burton

                                            Actually, there's rarely a need to run to Mina. You might be waiting over an hour for the food to arrive.

                                            1. re: el jefe

                                              and we all know --using the arby's model -- that speedy delivery is what matters most

                                2. re: NYJewboy

                                  I think Mina's is a bit north of Queens' bowels -- more like the esophagal tract, maybe?

                                  1. re: NYJewboy

                                    I agree with David. Most of my meals at Mina's have been very, very good. A few have been mediocre. It's fine to disagree. Yes, different people have different tastes, but how far do we have to go in repeating the exact same things? Let's just agree to disagree.

                                    1. re: pynchoff

                                      Good point, Pynchof. Jewboy has posted to this thread 7 times. Jewboy, Burton, Bob Martinez and David Sprague 5 times each. I posted twice. What's the limit? Or is there only a limit on negative posts?

                                      1. re: el jefe

                                        i doubt that there's a limit; two of my positive posts were removed, as i'm sure this one will be. but that's a chat for site talk...

                    3. Just came from Spicy Mina's to taste for myself after reading your too-too-lively posts. Had a FABULOUS meal - subtly spiced, rich but not too heavy, fresh shrimp and tender meat. Definitely willing to play the odds in a subsequent visit. Service was slow but accurate - no mistakes - and respectful. The woman I assume was Mina went back and forth between the kitchen and a vacant table, where she read the paper indifferently and occasionally chatted with customers. I would encourage anyone to try SM's once and return if you like it. Well worth the trip and a welcome change from the frantic halls of the Jackson Diner and the stewpots of Shaheens a few blocks up.