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Best North Indian I know....in Danbury CT

Jim Leff Apr 30, 2011 04:23 PM

Kabab Grill (35 White St) 205-2222, across from Meeker Hardware and near the Train Museum (and not far east of Main Street) is the best North Indian restaurant I know anywhere right now. It's in a boxy, barebones shopping strip location, but if food's what matters to you, this is your place. I drive here from NYC.

They offer a very unsurprising menu. No ritzy/esoteric dishes, just the usual favorites - diner cooking for local Indians and Pakistanis....only uncommonly good. As good, I think, as the Jackson Diner of yore (before they got famous).

Everything's great, so I hate to single stuff out. But I'll mention sesame naan, yellow dal, all kababs, chicken and spinach (it's a palakwala sauce, though unadvertised as such). Just everything. Make sure you ask for spicy (this isn't a cuisine that works well mild).

Samosa chat is not on menu, but it's woozy-makingly great.

VERY friendly owner speaks great English. And vegetarians can eat themselves silly.

I fear for their future. Previously, this was the only South African restaurant I knew of in this country. It was good-not-great, but certain things were great, and it, too, was very friendly. But they closed from lack of interest. So this is definitely a use-it-or-lose-it situation. Please spread the word.

  1. b
    bob gaj Oct 19, 2012 11:33 AM

    thanks for posting about this place. the tikka masala wasn't quite what i was used to, but once i got over my previous-expectations, the stuff was delicious. had a little bit there, the rest 1 hour away (and then the next day), and loved it.

    will probably be back next week. i've just forgotten to second the recommendation since i went several months ago.

    1. m
      michelleats Jul 9, 2012 03:06 PM

      Please find photos to accompany the review here: http://www.girleatscity.com/2012/07/k...

      Danbury, it seems, is a land of strip malls. This is not an aspersion. I love strip malls. Every time I visit my in-laws in New Jersey, I experience paroxysms of delight at the sight of a Ski Barn, Baby Depot, Pet Smart, Office Depot, A&P, liquor store and dollar store, all within steps of one another. Such efficiency! Such unparalleled convenience! And in Danbury's strip malls... such deliciousness, too!

      I've already raved to many people about one such strip mall find, Pho Vietnam, which we stumbled upon after a long, arduous hike in Bear Mountain Reservation and have been back to about twenty times already in the space of a few months. On a recent evening, after several equally arduous hours at the DMV, we followed a Chowhound lead to another strip mall restaurant, Kebab Grill. It's located in the White Street Plaza, in the same complex as a nice-looking Brazilian Bakery (Pão Gostoso Bakery and Pastries), a travel agency and some sort of check cashing business.

      At a place called "Kebab Grill", it seems unwise not to order the eponymous item though there are only a few kebabs listed on the takeout menu: chicken sheesh kebabs, lamb kebabs, chapli kebabs and shami kebabs. (The latter two are listed under the sandwich section, served as "burgers".) The night we went, the restaurant was out of lamb kebabs, so we opted for the chicken sheesh kebabs, instead. These were excellent, with nicely spiced, moist meat that was neither overly firm nor overly loose. The seasonings leaned sweet and included cloves and allspice, I think. We were hungry and I unfortunately devoured mine before I could really analyze the spicing very closely.

      The garlic naan was also very good and came to us freshly made, with crispy edges pleasantly charred in parts, a light sheen of oil and the alluring fragrance of freshly toasted garlic.

      It might be unfair to ask a place that specializes in kebabs to also make chaats well, but I was in the mood, so maybe against my better judgment, I ordered the samosa chaat and pani puri.

      Chaats are a bit of an art form. At their best, most are about the harmonious coexistence of crisp, crunchy and soft elements, of sweet, salty, sour and bitter elements, all of which have a great big Bollywood danceoff in your mouth. They're a great analogy for India, really. They're also meant to be eaten immediately after they are mixed. We ordered ours for takeout since the Little One and Medium-sized One were both in the car. But we did tear into the chaats as soon as we got them, within minutes after they came out of the kitchen.

      The pani puri came with slightly rancid, stale puri. Probably most restaurants in the U.S., even places that specialize in chaats, buy pre-made puris since they're a bit of a pain in the ars to make. But a good chaat wallah (or a mummy who loves you... but not enough to make you fresh puri ;) will toast pre-made packaged ones to restore them to crispness before serving if they're stale. Serving stale puri is a little like serving rubbery nori at a sushi restaurant. A good place won't do it. Also, Kebab Grill's pani (tamarind water), made with a nice balance of sweet and sour, was unfortunately far too salty. To achieve the right balance of filling -- in this case potatoes and chickpeas -- and pani, you couldn't use enough liquid to achieve that wonderful explosion in your mouth that epitomizes this chaat. As a matter of personal preference, I also missed the nice, bright, vegetal note that fresh coriander leaves add, either as a garnish, as an ingredient in the pani, or as part of a green chutney that many versions have. This is a stylistic variation, though, and I'm sure there are some people who like this kind of preparation better.

      The samosa chaat (pictured at the top of this post) was better, though it was overly moist, without much of a showing from the headline ingredient, samosa. Perhaps we caught them on an off night when they were running low, but we detected only a few crumbs of at the bottom of the (very generously filled) takeout container. Instead of cut-up pieces of samosas, there were cubes of potato in a large pool of well made kala channa (black chickpea curry), diced onion and tomato, green chutney and thinned yogurt. I missed the sev often used to garnish this dish: it could really have used the crunch.

      Chaats are specialty items, though, and despite their evident lack of strength on that front (based on two chaats ordered on one night; obviously, it's a limited sample), Kebab Grill seems to do a good job with other dishes. An order of aloo gobi muttar was a good balance of tender, well cooked potato, cauliflower, tomato and peas, sweet with caramelized onions. It was quite a lot more oily than most homemade versions, but deliciously so.

      All in all, this was a nice meal. I probably won't try the chaats again, personally, since we can pretty easily cobble together better versions at home. But those kebabs almost made spending hours at the Danbury DMV worth it. Almost.

      6 Replies
      1. re: michelleats
        Jim Leff Jul 9, 2012 04:52 PM

        Great write-up!

        No excuse for the rancid puri. Sorry about that.

        You describe the non-chaat, non-kebab items accurately, but would you consider that maybe you might have missed the extent of their luscious wonderfulness? It may be a set/setting thing; when cheap food is served on styrofoam plates in a VERY barebones place like this, we're not accustomed to swooning and shouting "bravo" (or whatever the Urdu version is)!

        Chaat, exactly like biryani, varies enormously from region to region....and from kitchen to kitchen. I've had lots of the sort you like - refined, hitting all taste buds, bright and zingy. I like that kind, too! But that's not what they're aiming for here. They make more of a sloppy/gooey/hearty bachelor/truckstop northern version. They're not trying and failing to be refined and zingy; it's just not their aim (and I think that's pretty clear from what you get, no?).

        As with Mexican food, there are infinite variations on everything from state-to-state, city-to-city, even house-to-house. People used to quesadillas being made one way may fall into the trap of faulting ones that fail to meet expectation based on other versions. I try to judge what a kitchen seems to be aiming for. Do they nail it? Is it delicious, on its own terms? Deliciousness is deliciousness! :)

        Though it might fail if judged via an inapplicable template, their samosa chaat does, in my opinion, nail it on pure deliciousness.

        I never ordered their pani puri....nor would I, ordinarily, because that's more of a refined, effete dish (great when done right!). Not the place for it. Sort of like ordering crepes suzettes in a diner! But sorry again about the bad puris. Bummer!

        Anyway, you seem to recognize the quality of their non-kebab, non-chaat dishes. Maybe give another try, and open your mind to the possibility that just maybe it's actually more than merely tasty; that in spite of the environment and price and lack of pretension, this might actually be really really great....if eaten on its own terms.

        If you do that, and still disagree, then, hey, that's cool. We just disagree! :)

        But you get last word either way. I've expressed my feelings, and will only chime in if I have something new to say! :)

        1. re: Jim Leff
          m
          michelleats Jul 9, 2012 08:16 PM

          >>No excuse for the rancid puri. Sorry about that.

          Geez, you didn't make it (I don't think). Don't apologize.

          >>would you consider that maybe you might have missed the extent of their luscious wonderfulness? It may be a set/setting thing; when cheap food is served on styrofoam plates in a VERY barebones place like this, we're not accustomed to swooning and shouting "bravo" (or whatever the Urdu version is)!

          Actually, it occurs to me that I went in with maybe unreasonably high expectations since I'd read your review in advance. If I'd just stumbled into this place, not expecting anything, I might've written a breathless review, too. It's entirely possible that it's the best Indian food in the area. I don't know. I've only tried one other restaurant (Mysore: fair, nice owners, NOT south Indian despite the name) and a few prepared products from Indian Food and Spice so far.

          Some of the best chaat is from pretty humble streetside stalls so I'm not sure pani puri is always an effete dish. I guess it's the kind of chaat you're most likely to see at a wedding or at a hotel restaurant, though.

          In any case, I'll be giving this place lots of tries, don't worry. I do like it and I liked the guy who was at the counter the night we went. Also, I'm kind of moved by your spirited defense of the place. It's a primal instinct to protect a good food supply, I think. :) So I'll help you keep it open. Deal?

          Not to take us too far off subject, but have you tried that bakery in the same complex? (It looked good! They have the Brazilian version of tamales...) And can you explain to me why and how Danbury is blessed with such a phenomenal, diverse food culture? It's really like a mini Queens and I have to wonder how people from so many different parts of the world came to be there. Lovely as it is, I'm not sure Danbury is the first place I would point to on a map of the USA and decide to live if I were an immigrant to the country.

          1. re: michelleats
            Jim Leff Jul 10, 2012 04:35 PM

            THe Brazilian bakery is merely ok. There's no great Brazilian anything in the area. And, if there were, there'd be no clientele for it. Folks hereabouts are from the interior state of Mina's Gerais. Meat-and-potatoes cowboys. Square. Not food oriented.

            1. re: Jim Leff
              m
              michelleats Jul 12, 2012 06:04 PM

              That's a shame. Danbury seems to have a lot more Brazilian restaurants than Manhattan -- certainly more per capita. There must be something good kicking around.

          2. re: Jim Leff
            c
            chipmonger Jul 16, 2012 02:11 PM

            Thanks to the OP for pointing out this place. We stopped by yesterday for takeout on our way back from VT and to wait out the storm!

            The chicken and lamb kebabs were very tasty, but be forewarned they are a bit on the spicy (hot) side. No disappointments with the rice and naan either. One or more curries must be ordered in order to avoid making the meal too dry. We only had the chick peas which were OK, but as noted elsewhere oily. We are eager to go back and try other curries or sauce-based dishes like the potatoes+cauliflower.

            1. re: chipmonger
              Jim Leff Jul 16, 2012 08:30 PM

              Yes, everything is very oily. Which, as with Sichuan, is the authentic way.

              Agreed re: kebab heat. These may be the spiciest, most roaringly fiery kebabs I've ever had. The Chapli kebab is particularly fierce (yet worth the pain)....

        2. saturngrrl Jul 4, 2012 12:01 PM

          Finally got over to try this place after thinking/talking about it for months and months. YUM! Sheesh kabab were deleesh.;-) I also had the chicken and spinach and while I found it a bit on the greasy side, it was very tasty and enough for two meals. Would have preferred the chicken off the bone (just because I have a weird personal issue with bones, LOL!) but despite that, the chicken was tender, juicy and great-tasting. One disappointment, though - NO SAMOSAS were available (Saturday lunchtime). So, I guess that means we'll have to go back and try those again! Loved that they add a bit of kick to the garlic naan and the sesame naan. Thanks for the recs. Looking forward to future takeout meals from this place!

          1. h
            hungrykids Jun 12, 2012 09:33 AM

            don't know how i missed this last year - so glad it popped back up on the board. we are looking for someplace to go for dinner tonight!

            6 Replies
            1. re: hungrykids
              m
              michelleats Jul 3, 2012 03:32 PM

              how did you like it, hungrykids? i loved the kebabs (they only had chicken the night i went for some reason), which were beautifully spiced, juicy and every bit as good as jim said they'd be. the night we went, the aloo gobi mater was good, samosa chaat was so so and the aloo papri chaat was downright dreadful. i'm posting on the fly right now, but i'll try to write more detailed explanations than just a flat "good" or "bad" in the nearish future. overall, great find. i would definitely return for the kebabs in a heartbeat.

              1. re: michelleats
                Jim Leff Jul 3, 2012 10:10 PM

                Just to chime in to note that I've eaten here at least twenty times, gone through the entire menu, and not had one bite that was less than socko great.

                This sort of thing (authentic north Indian/Pakistani) isn't really found in this area (and, yes, I'm aware of, and tried, every other Indian in this part of Fairfield county). So unfamiliarity can account for some of the tepid comments and reviews. But I can assure everyone, having eaten in dozens of the best and most staunchly authentic north Indian restaurants (and home kitchens), that everything here can be considered "benchmark". That is, if a dish here falls short for you, you simply don't like the dish....or you don't like it done right.

                It's certainly understandable to be put off by the real thing when one's only been exposed to pandering versions. But this IS the real thing, beautifully done, with great consistency. Its a place to learn from and calibrate to. I'd encourage everyone to go here, and to order freely across their uniformly wonderful menu.

                1. re: Jim Leff
                  m
                  michelleats Jul 9, 2012 02:53 PM

                  That's fair enough. I've only had one meal at Kebab Grill and that's obviously not a very large sample, but perhaps it adds to my credibility a little bit if I tell you I'm a card-carrying PIO and I've traveled / eaten pretty extensively around a lot of India (and some key parts of NJ). But few of my relatives are north Indian, so perhaps you do know more about north-Indian / Pakistani / Bangladeshi fare. Anyway, I'll post my review as a reply to your original post and you can read and judge.

                  1. re: michelleats
                    Jim Leff Jul 9, 2012 04:33 PM

                    Agreed, sounds like you know what you're talking about. Then allow me switch my tone from "not completely sure you know this cuisine" to a more vanilla "Hey, I disagree....or else I've been very lucky or you've been very unlucky"! ;)

                    UPDATE: Just read your detailed notes. Yeah, there are some north/south issues. I'll reply there with more specifics.

                2. re: michelleats
                  h
                  hungrykids Jul 9, 2012 07:20 PM

                  got distracted by something that night (kids, no doubt) and never made it to danbury for dinner...then completely lost track of our plans in the midst of getting the hungry kids out the door for the summer.

                  so now that we're a month behind schedule....maybe we'll try it this week...especially in light of your longer post and jim's thoughtful reply, i'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

                  1. re: hungrykids
                    m
                    michelleats Jul 9, 2012 08:28 PM

                    ah, i completely empathize. nowadays, it takes me months and months longer to get to places i want to try than it did, before, and i only have one (human) hungry kid whom, I'm told, is still relatively undemanding. i'm a little afraid to think about what it'll be like when he's older.

                    if you do go -- there or anywhere else -- will you please try to write up some sort of blurb on this board? for very selfish reasons, i wish there were better coverage of new fairfield county in general on here. it's exciting to discover new places on my own, but there is still nothing like the vicarious thrill of someone else's good meal if i can't get to a place right away, myself.

              2. m
                michelleats Jun 10, 2012 08:49 PM

                Anyone know if this place is still open?

                2 Replies
                1. re: michelleats
                  Jim Leff Jun 10, 2012 10:41 PM

                  It is.

                  1. re: Jim Leff
                    m
                    michelleats Jun 11, 2012 06:14 PM

                    Thanks for the tip, Jim. I'm always on a lookout for places with good chaat.

                2. jeremyhfisher Jul 5, 2011 01:25 PM

                  Had dinner at Kabab Grill last night. Jim's right, the place is a gem. It reminds me a little bit of Lahore Karahi in San Francisco, which is also a favorite. It's worth going far out of your way to eat here, but there's absolutely no decor and you order at the counter, so keep that in mind. The chef/owner is Noman, who grew up in the Danbury area and decided to open his own place after learning to cook at Dera in Jackson Heights (he worked there for a year and said the food is great, particularly the chickpeas). He's looking to open a second place in the near future, probably in Meriden.

                  Here's what we ate:
                  Samosa Chat (astonishingly good, this was the crowd favorite. Like Jim says, it's not on the regular, but it is on the takeout menu)
                  Chicken kabab and lamb kabab (both great, but chicken was the winner)
                  Chicken tikka (ordered per Noman's suggestion. Probably the best chicken dish I've had in the past 3 years. A mind-blowingly awesome rendition)
                  Palak paneer (awesome)
                  Sesame naan (awesome)
                  Dal tadka (very good)
                  Chicken karahi (merely good)
                  Green pea pulao (well executed)
                  Mango lassi (very good)

                   
                  1. TrishUntrapped May 6, 2011 08:35 PM

                    Friends of mine ate there tonight and said every dish they tried was good and tasty. They considered it more of a takeout spot. I'm putting it on my must try soon list.

                    1. jeremyhfisher May 2, 2011 07:25 AM

                      I would love to take a trip to this place. If anyone is going, let me know jeremy at dinevore dot com.

                      1. TrishUntrapped May 1, 2011 04:15 AM

                        Jim, great find. My friends and co-workers will want to know about this. How are prices?

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: TrishUntrapped
                          saturngrrl May 3, 2011 08:42 AM

                          Looking at the menu here, the prices look pretty darn good to me. At least as of six months ago. Prices could have gone up since then, of course! I plan to check this place out very soon!

                          http://kababgrillct.com/1990.html

                          1. re: saturngrrl
                            TrishUntrapped May 4, 2011 04:59 AM

                            Thanks for the menu. I've spread the word at my office, so hopefully some new business will trickle in for them.

                            1. re: TrishUntrapped
                              saturngrrl May 4, 2011 06:38 AM

                              Sure thing! Let us know if you try it... and how you like it!

                            2. re: saturngrrl
                              joeprintz May 6, 2011 09:15 PM

                              thanks for the link. definitely would check it out. :)

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