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Moti Mehal report

Yes, bubeleh, there is a Santa Claus.

Friends and I were in the mood for spicy food this evening and Josh Karpati's review in last Thursday's Hour -- www.hour.ca/food/food.aspx?iIDArticle... -- suggested the venue: Moti Mehal, a new Pakistani resto on the southwest corner of Jean-Talon and Acadie, a block north of the Acadie metro station.

First to arrive, I chatted with the waiter. He mentioned that the chef used to work at another restaurant but decided to set out on his own. "Where'd he work before," I asked.
"Out on the West Island."
"Where on the West Island?"
"On Sources Boulevard."
"Oh. Where on Sources Boulevard?"
"This Pakistani restaurant. You've probably never heard of it. Shahi Palace."
"What?! Shahi Palace?! That's one of our favourite places. We dream about their balti. I was just joking with friends that I wished they'd open a branch in the centre city."
"Well, he was the chef there for four or five years. He left last summer. And now he has this restaurant, his own."

When the others arrived, they greeted the news with applause and squeals of joy. And the food didn't disappoint. We had:

PAKORAS (1 x 6): Balls of of shredded vegetables, coated in chickpea flour batter and deep fried (looked more like onion bhajis than the standard tempura-like standard-issue pakoras). Nicely spiced with a little chile bite. Served with a sweet and tangy tamarind sauce and a smooth and sour-tangy mint-yogurt sauce.

VEGETABLE SAMOSAS (3 x 2): Large turnovers stuffed with spicy potatoes, peas and other vegetables. Very tasty if a little oily.

HALEEM: Mixture of stewed beef, lentils, wheat berries and spices, pounded into a thick paste. Not everyone cared for the texture. A bit odd, I agree, but the flavours were fabulous -- you can clearly taste both the meat and the wheat -- and the spicing was perfect, subtle enough to serve as a foil, assertive enough to save the dish from cloying blandness. Oh, so moreish.

CHICKEN BALTI: As good as the best at Shahi Palace. 'Nuff said.

MUTTON BALTI: A slight letdown, but only because our expectations were so high. Tasty enough, but we all felt the balti treatment worked better with the lighter and more succulent chicken.

BEEF MADRAS: Rich curry with succulent chunks of beef in a smooth, deep-flavoured, red-brown sauce.

PALAK PANEER: The paneer (cheese) was first-rate. The spinach delicious, if not quite as fresh tasting as at Shahi Palace last June, but still miles ahead of anywhere else in the city.

ALOO GOBI: Potatoes and al dente cauliflower with spices and tomato. Superb rendition of what is often a sorry dish.

CHOLAY: Perfectly cooked chickpeas in a spicy brown sauce. Excellent.

RAITA, NAN (x 4), RICE (x 2): All very good. The nan was perfectly cooked, wonderfully tender, though I think the dough would have benefited from a touch more salt.

MANGO LASSI (x 3): Not too sweet. Good yogurt tang and fruit flavour. Less thick than Karpati reports.

KHEER (x 2): Off-menu dessert. Basically a rosewater-perfumed rice pudding garnished with chopped pistachios. Half the table liked it; the other half have issues with rosewater.

Spicing throughout was enlightened, with each dish featuring a unique set of flavours that perfectly complemented the main ingredients. As at Shahi Palace, nothing tasted stale or as if made on a production line. The food was rich but not heavy or particularly oily. Portions were generous. Ours was a party of six and, despite everyone eating his fill and a couple of us eating more than we needed to, there were a few leftovers, which the resto happily packed up for tomorrow's lunch.

The price for this feast? $120 for six people -- that's $20 a head -- including tax and tip.

The resto has no liquor licence. We didn't ask if they allowed BYOB. They also have a takeout menu, though not everything is listed on it (e.g. several of the balti dishes); I expect they'd be happy to oblige any requests.

Moti Mehal
1024 Jean-Talon W.
514 315-8801

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  1. The aloo gobi is very impressive at this place. I never crave aloo gobi, but I am craving the one at Moti Mehal. One of the few places where they seem to make an effort with this dish. The potato is tender, the cauliflower is fresh, this dish is truly a celebration of these two simple ingredients, which when done right can be sublime. When done wrong, they are just bland and boring. No boring here!

    I really enjoyed the kheer, I thought it was an excellent example of southeast Asian style rice pudding. But of course, you have to enjoy rice pudding.

    4 Replies
    1. re: moh

      I looove kheer and will defintely ask for this for dessert when I go tomorrow - that is, if there's any room left after my meal of chole + other yumminess!

      1. re: kpzoo

        No harm in asking but don't get your hopes up. We were told they had a few extra bowls of kheer made for a wedding they'd catered earlier in the day.

        Will look forward to your report. Based on a single visit, I think this is a really exciting development -- maybe the most exciting in a long time -- for centre city lovers of Indian food, especially ones disinclined or unable to schlep out to Pierrefonds.

        1. re: kpzoo

          Two thumbs up! (tm)

          Veggie samosas were filling and tasty. The sauces were nice - I liked having two contrasting ones (a yogurt-based one and a spicy tamarind variation) to alternate between.

          The chole was delicious - rich, thick, spicy. Tasted almost identical to the Shahi Palace version, but served without the little side salad. They made two huge fluffy bhatura breads on request - it's not on the menu but the waiter said it would be no problem to whip some up. (They were $2 each.)

          The balti chicken was excellent - tomatoey and flavourful with lots of sauce.

          And yes, they had the kheer! I had little room left, but was compelled to ask what they had for dessert - and the first thing he listed was rice pudding. It was creamy and flavourful. My friend wasn't crazy about it - a combination of the rosewater taste (which I found pretty subtle) and the odd texture - it was as if the rice had been pounded into small pieces or something. Maybe that's a particular style, I've never seen it before.

          Only one complaint: I found everything quite greasy. Both main dishes had at least a tablespoon of oil pooled in the serving bowl - not very appetizing, but it was relatively easy to avoid when spooning out the contents. The bhatura was also a fair bit greasier than the Shahi version. Also of note is that my bhatura fetish made for a $10 dish (chole + 2 bhaturas) whereas Shahi's version is $6 for the same thing, including a salad. But I justified it by telling myself that I'm saving on gas by not driving all the way to Pierrefonds. ;-)

          All in all - a delicious and reasonably-priced meal. I had plenty of leftover chole, bhatura, and rice for a hearty lunch today. How exciting to find a closer place to get my chole fix. (See my original thread - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/576254 )

        2. re: moh

          «But of course, you have to enjoy rice pudding.»

          Dunno about that. I'm usually not a fan of rice pudding but had no trouble polishing off my serving. Attractions were the ungoopy texture, the integrity and slight graininess of the rice, the balance of flavours (one of the characteristics of every dish we tried on Sunday) and the light hand with the sugar.

        3. I've biked by it a few times and was planning to try it out . . . I can't wait!

          2 Replies
          1. re: spankyhorowitz

            Spankyhorowitz - try it soon - it is so great.... You'll kick yourself for delaying...

            1. re: moh

              Tried Moti Mehal yesterday. Their chicken balti just as good as Shahi Palace(the only noticeable difference Shahi Palace's version is lttle bit more spicier). Haleem was good, but it's not my type of dish(it's a pooridge type dish). Their nan bread excellent(much much better than at Shahi Palace). Mango shake very good(as Carswell said above with mango lassi, it's not too sweet).

              The Moti Mehal owner(I'm guessing he was the manager or manager/owner) had no
              idea about the Hour paper review of his restaurant(maybe because Moti Mehal has been opened for only 3 weeks, so Joshua Karpati reviewed the resto after it opened less than 2 weeks).

          2. «a new Pakistani resto on the southwest corner of Jean-Talon and Acadie»

            Oops. It's the southeast corner. Sorry.

            4 Replies
            1. re: carswell

              Ha! Was just about to correct that, because at the southwest corner, there is a church well known for its Hungarian bazaars, including such chow-related items as homemade egg noodles, and sausages.

              I'm pretty sure it is strictly halal so no byow; if you want a meal with wine or beer, you'll have to do takeaway.

              1. re: lagatta

                «I'm pretty sure it is strictly halal so no byow; if you want a meal with wine or beer, you'll have to do takeaway.»

                Don't be so sure. Shahi Palace is strictly halal and graciously allows infidels to bring their own beer and wine. Someone will just have to ask.

                1. re: carswell

                  «Someone will just have to ask.»

                  Actually I just called them. They currently don't allow BYOB but only because they haven't yet received a permit to serve alcohol (i.e. a BYO permit). They have applied for one, however, and expect to have it in a few weeks.

                  1. re: carswell

                    Thanks carswell, on behalf of all the infidels and heathens (including at least one not-very-observant Muslim friend)!

                    There are a lot of places on that stretch that are quite strict about that sort of thing, which is what made me think it was unlikely. I didn't know Shahi was halal. I've never been there, as it is so out of the way for me and it would be hard to convince friends (hopefully one with a car) to go there, so it is great to be able to have that great food a brisk walk or short bus ride away.

            2. Vegetable pakoras: greasier this time. Tamarind sauce is fruity and sharp, mint sauce smooth and refreshing.

              Vegetable samosas: less greasy and oily this time. The seasoning and cooking of the potato-dominated stuffing is masterful.

              Shrimp balti: well executed, let down only by the quality of the shrimp (such a frequent problem in this city). So far, among the baltis, the chicken takes the prize.

              Haleem: as delicious as last time. The texture seemed less odd and the dish was perfect for an icy-cold night. This is becoming comfort food for me.

              Chilli [sic] chicken, succulent sliced breast with onion and green peppers in a yogurt sauce: fiery yet suave. An absolute winner.

              Eggplant masala: Firm wedges of eggplant in a spicy onion and fresh tomato sauce. Very good.

              Nan: very good. Better than last time. Less fluffy than typical (not a criticism).

              Tea: whether plain or chai, comes with milk added.

              Sweet plain yogurt lassi: reportedly good if not quite up to Halal 786's standards.

              Bill: $22-23 per person, taxes and tip included.

              We asked the waitress how business was. Her reply was a little ominous: "OK, but maybe winter isn't the best time to open a restaurant." Moti Mehal may be the city's top Pako-Indian restaurant -- what a shame if it didn't survive the big chill.

              18 Replies
              1. re: carswell

                Oh oh...I better get a move on and head there soon!

                1. re: hungryann

                  I drove by with a friend from out of town and was hoping she would be in the mood for Indian/Pakistani food so I can finally try it out but unfortunately she was not. The place was empty at 7:30pm, while Maison Indian Curry and Bombay Mahal were filled to the gills. On the way back at 9 pm, only one table was occupied. Things are not looking good for Moti Mehal. I have to go ASAP.

                  1. re: hungryann

                    Just don't order anything with spinach. Their used of canned spinach really turned us off, and we won't be heading back anytime soon.
                    I still contend that Shahi Palace, though out of the way, is well worth the extra driving.

                    1. re: bomobob

                      Bomobob, I am not one hundred percent convinced this is canned spinach they use. Now, chopped frozen, I could see, but not canned... Any how, if someone else has the cahones to ask if they use canned spinach, please feel free to do so and report back!

                      Had another meal there last night, and it was excellent. Excellent samosas to start, the potato samosa is so lovingly spiced. The beef nehari is one of my favorite Indian dishes ever. The beef is very tender, but it is the sauce which is the best part of this dish, it is so savoury and so flavourful. I could eat this alone with a piece of naan and be content. The chicken balti is also wonderful, and very consistent. They certainly know how to make aloo gobi sing. I will not order this dish in other restaurants, but it is a must order here. The lamb korma was a wonderful surprise, we ordered it for my slightly wussy hubbie, who is doomed to wander the earth surrounded by chiliheads (his fault for marrying Korean). My experience with korma has been mild, overly sweet sauces, cloying dishes, not worth ordering. But this korma has a lovely depth of flavour, and like the other sauces, it is balanced and complex. The haleem was yummy as always, although I think it may be a bit of an acquired texture thing. Not everyone will appreciate the texture of haleem, though the flavours are great. The palak paneer was not as yummy as it has been before, but the paneer chunks were still excellent.

                      I can see why you don't like the spinach dishes. But I do feel that all these other dishes compare very favourably with the dishes at Shahi Palace. My take on the Shahi Palace/Moti Mehal debate is that we are lucky to have two similar style restos, with similar quality, in two very different locations. When I am in the West Island, I'll hit SP (and of course my beloved Bombay Choupati), and when I am closer to downtown, MM it is. All good.

                      1. re: moh

                        Well, we'll have to agree to disagree. I was back at Shahi for lunch yet again two days ago, and it was just out of this world. I had to have the chicken balti, of course, and there was just no comparison. Not even close. It was so light and fresh tasting, with the ginger really coming to the fore. I might be willing to try MM again in a group, to sample a wider selection, but a little arm twisting would be in order.
                        RE the spinach. I wouldn't have minded frozen, which actually works fine in curries, but I really don't think it was.

                        1. re: bomobob

                          Bomobob, I am a bit confused by your recent posts on Moti Mehal. Your initial report seemed to indicate that you enjoyed some of the dishes. I understand that the spinach may be a deal breaker for you, and that is fine. I also understand that you prefer the balti at Shahi Palace. Again, this is a personal preference, and I have no quibble with this.

                          What I don't understand is the insistence that the Moti balti is not even close to the Shahi version. Perhaps you are exaggerating for literary effect? Perhaps you got a substandard batch at Moti Mehal? Whatever the reason, I get the impression that you believe that people should avoid Moti Mehal, and that Shahi is the only way to go.

                          Having sampled the balti at both places multiple times now, I would say that we are quibbling about minutiae when we say "this place has the best balti". Both of these places have delicious balti. And of course, I love debating the merits of each balti, bring on the discussion! We are, after all, food-obsessed, and debate stirs the appetite. But I do want to make it clear to others who might be following this thread that I do not believe there is as much difference between the two balti dishes as you seem to imply. You, may be correct in that the balti at Shahi is consistently better, or this may be personal preference. But they are both good dishes, and miles above anything that could be found at say, Buffet Maharaja (avert eyes - ptoeey).

                          Perhaps a blind taste test would be in order? Hee hee hee!

                          I can say that my recent brush with the MM balti leaves me needing another hit. It was delicious, with all the complexity and balance of flavours that I experienced at Shahi Palace. Like I say, we need more places like this! More good restos, more choice, all good. It would be terrible if this place doesn't make it.

                          1. re: moh

                            Balti Wars II. Now showing. Bring on the taste test.

                            It's not complicated. I'm wondering if we happened to hit the cook's day off?

                            The aloo gobi was very good, and nice change from the usual version. We really liked it.
                            The balti chicken was very good, but like kid's report cards, VG is trumped by E. Having been to Shahi a few days before and again a few days after, they difference between the versions is marked. I could tell them apart easily. Moti's is not "bad" at all, very good in fact. I just prefer the other. It's a all a question of taste, right?
                            The thing about the palak paneer that tainted everything is that it tasted bad, and we ate very little of it, apart from picking out the paneer, which was fabulous. We brought home the leftovers as we always do, and we ended up flushing the spinach down the bog because it was just as lousy reheated. Unfortunately, that last memory remains.

                            I've read nothing but glowing reviews about MM, and if one makes the valid assumption that it's unlikely everyone had their tastebuds surgically removed, the only conclusion is that we got a crummy batch of palak paneer. I wouldn't discourage anyone from going, but I think it's my duty as an avid eater to report when something is so substandard as to render it almost inedible.

                            1. re: bomobob

                              Sounds like you definitely got a substandard batch of palak paneer - it doesn't sound anything like the one we had there. Perhaps yours did indeed have canned spinach in it - but you should give them another chance.
                              Balti taste-off, anyone?

                              1. re: cherylmtl

                                I'm game. I have some Air Canada blindfolds too!

                              2. re: bomobob

                                Well, for us something on the West Island might as well be in Manitoba - though i am thrilled that there is good eating there for people living in that area! Very few of my friends have cars, and those that do are ALWAYS busy and live in other areas.

                                I can walk to Moti Mehal, and if it is -25 take a wussy bus a few stops, and another even fewer.

                                Now, how to ensure their survival? Reviews in community newspapers? I'll be thinking of strategies.

                              3. re: moh

                                Neither I nor any of the ten or so people I've queried have thought for a second that the spinach was canned. Overcooked, sure, but authentically so (checking some of my Indian Indian recipe books, I find recipes for palak aloo in which the spinach cooks for 45 minutes, for mutton palak in which it cooks for two hours) and certainly not as overcooked as at other fine restaurants, Bombay Choupati -- http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5392... -- being a prime example. But canned? No way. When placing my takeout order the other day, I inquired. Did they use North American spinach or perhaps Indian "spinach" (mustard greens, etc.)? North American. Was it fresh, frozen or...? Fresh. That said, I feel that Shahi Palace's palak paneer is (or was, since I haven't tried it since June, when Moti Mehal's chef was manning their kitchen) superior, due mainly to the fresher -- unauthentically undercooked -- taste of the greens.

                                Oddly, consistency has been less of an issue for me at Moti Mehal than at Shahi Palace. My last visit at the Palace was in October, and two others in the party had also been there before. Overall, the meal was good if less wildly so than during our first visit in June. This was my second encounter with their balti chicken and it didn't quite live up to my memories. When I said as much to one of the others who'd been there in June, she agreed. I chalked it up to an off night or the first-time-is-always-the-best syndrome. Only later did we learn that the former chef had left, and when we did it was an ah-ha moment. Would love to compare further but the Palace's remoteness for central cityzens and the carbon footprint (to say nothing of lost time) of travelling there by car (public transit isn't an appealing option) make that likely to be an infrequent occurrence at best.

                                Anyhoo, let a thousand Pako-Indian restos bloom, especially when they're as good as these are.

                              4. re: bomobob

                                I went to the restaurant with four other food obsessed friends. We all tried the palak paneer, and everyone agreed that it wasn't made from canned spinach. It was cooked very very long, right; but not canned. So methinks you got them in a very bad day where they had to substitute canned spinach, or perhaps your palate was confused that day.

                                The rest of the dishes were equally delicious, but I too was worried because we were the only customers for the whole night.

                                I also do not understand this insistence of Shahi Palace is better than Moti Mehal argument. We are not talking about two restaurants that are side by side so that one needs to pick one. They all serve for different communities, and they are equally good. Considering that the current owner of Moti is the former cook of Shahi and is struggling with the challenges of opening a restaurant in the winter of recession, this comparison is not only odd, but also sounds a little bit detrimental.

                          2. re: hungryann

                            I just had a dream day of a trip to Shahi Palace followed by a trip to Bombay Mehal. I didn't realize that Moti Mehal was right across the street from Bombay or i would have definitely tried it instead. I did notice that Bombay has purchased the store next door and expanded their dining area so now it's effectively doubled in size.

                            1. re: blond_america

                              How about this:

                              Breakfast at Bombay Mahal
                              Lunch at Shahi Palace
                              Supper at Moti Mehal

                              I'm in, are you in?

                              p.s. great news about the Bombay Mahal expansion - it's always packed!

                        2. re: carswell

                          I'm worried too! Just came back from a wonderful dinner at Moti Mehal and at 7 pm we were the *only* customers in the place! OK, it's a quasi-holiday, but still - other places along the Jean-Talon strip seemed busy. :-(

                          Bill: $27 *for 2* taxes + tip included - 1 appetizer, 2 mains, rice & nan

                          1. re: carswell

                            OK carswell. Last week's trip to Shahi is still fresh in our minds, where the Balti Chicken was, well...remember that scene in "Big Night"? "It's so good, you have to kill yourself"?
                            The ginger - which in many dishes works very well, but you don't actually want to eat the big chunks - just took it over the top and beyond. We ordered Balti chicken and mutton palik, but since they were fresh out of fresh spinach, we opted for Balti&Balti, and while both were incredible, the chicken was positively devastating.

                            The plan is to do Moti Mahal this weekend, but damn, it's going to be a tough challenge.

                            Oh, just as an aside, Shahi's naan last week was from another planet entirely. Sublime.

                            1. re: bomobob

                              Well, it sure wasn't bad, and it's a lot closer to NDG than northern DDO is, but I still think Shahi Palace is worth the trek.
                              Coming on the heels of several days of too much food, we went easy.

                              Aloo gobi. Definitely worth the price of admission. The sauce itself set this dish apart from the usual. When done right, and with liberal use of coriander, aloo gobi can be delicious in competent hands, but it's usually just filler. Moti's is really good, and stands out.

                              Palak paneer. Sorry, but spinach from a tin just doesn't cut it. Uh-uh, no way. The greyish hue was a dead giveaway, and the not-quite-right puree-ness of it just didn't seem, well...right. But the real kicker was the massive quantity of spinach. Mushed to that consistency, one would need at least two cello bags of fresh spinach to achieve that amount of finished product.
                              On the bright side, the paneer was brilliant, but nothing could excuse the spinach. No stars.

                              Balti chicken. Delicious, but still a full notch and a half below Shahi Palace. The chicken itself was kind of skimpy, and though the flavour was there, it was more of a pleasant melody compared to the crashing symphony of Shahi's Balti, which is simply unforgettable.

                              Naan was lovely, though lacked some puffiness.
                              Mango lassis were delicious.

                              We asked for some hot mango pickle, and the waiter finally showed up just as we were finishing, apologizing for not finding any, and offering us a plate of sliced hot green chilies. Meh...

                              One yummy, one quite good, and one unacceptable. What's that, 3/6? Eh, I dunno.

                          2. Went there with a couple of friends about a week ago, and was impressed. A lot. My friend the eater extraordinaire indicated that this might be the best Indian/Pakistani food he had in the city; I cannot disagree (disclaimer: I do not have the same kind of eating experience as he has in this city). We wanted to try some vegetable dish other than the ubiquitous palak paneer or gobi, so without much expectations we decided on the eggplant masala and were rewarded with well cooked, but not at all slimy eggplant dishes covered in some sauce that was almost like a dry rub. Balti shrimp was very good; I loved the sauce better than the shrimp that wasn't adding much to the dish. Next time I'd perhaps order the chicken.

                            We also wanted a chicken dish that wasn't a cliche, so we ended up with another random selection: chili chicken. There came tender chicken pieces that are swimming in an intensely spiced sauce that is softened by just a little bit of yogurt.

                            The greatest hit of the evening was the haleem. Considering that this is a labor intensive dish that also doesn't take much reheating, I am amazed how they could offer this as a part of their regular menu (unlike Halal which only serves it on Friday). Perhaps they have a secret crockpot/rice cooker technique that keeps it warm throughout the day, but whatever they do they should continue doing it. Moti's haleem is subtler compared to Halal's, but it is very balanced and complex. I can imagine myself eating this every day. They are both good in their own leagues, and Moti's advantage is that you can have it any day.

                            My least favorite dish was the pakora. They were dark and oily, perhaps a victim of bad reheating. Samosas on the other hand were good, so good that my boyfriend "accidentally" ate most of my share.