Neerob Chowdown Report (Long)
Admittedly I wasn't taking notes during the awesome Bangladeshi meal several of us enjoyed this past Sunday at Neerob in Parkchester, the Bronx. So I'll do my best to write this report from memory. (Luckily most of what I tried made me want to stand up and cheer, so remembering what I ate will be easier than usual.)
I hope others will jump in here with additions and corrections -- especially since, as a vegetarian, I didn't get to sample the two fish dishes (though they looked and smelled amazing -- crispy and laden with tomatoes, spices, etc.) and one of the seafood-based bhartas. (Yes, I cheated and tried the sutki bharta -- dried fish, and it was totally worth foregoing my veg. ideals for that brief moment!)
*Mixed Vegetable Pakoras -- I didn't try these, as I'm not s huge fan of fried food, but Miss Masala was sitting next to me and seemed quite impressed by them.
*Moong Daal -- This thin lentil soup (sambhar-like consistency) had multiple bold flavors. Writing this now, I remember being struck by the lovely lemony edge, but there also seemed to be some other spices present (maybe cumin or mustard seeds and definitely turmeric; garlic is a good bet too), as well as tomatoes and coriander leaves. I am a huge daal fan, and this is one of the best I've ever had in a restaurant -- light, low on oil, and amazingly flavorful.
*Mixed Vegetables: This dry dish (i.e., no gravy) contained cabbage, carrots and a S. Asian gourd that goes by several names -- ghiya, lauki, doodhi, bottle gourd -- and was seasoned with garlic, turmeric, chilis and probably onions and tomatoes (as the menu notes), though these were so well-cooked that they were barely noticeable. It was great to see ghiya/lauki/doodhi/bottle gourd in a restaurant dish, as this amazingly healthy vegetable is usually only found in homecooking -- though it's great at absorbing the flavors of whatever it's cooked in and deserves more use/love!
*Spinach (w/mustard greens too?): This was my absolute favorite dish of the night. Hands down the best S. Asian preparation of spinach I've ever had (and I have easy access to Punjabi homecooked versions of this veggie: saag paneer, saag aloo, etc.). In Neerob's version, spinach (and possibly mustard greens too -- as this seemed too fibrous to just be spinach) was sauteed with ample mustard oil (which gave the dish a wasabi-like flavor) and other seasonings -- maybe lemon/lime juice, chilis, garlic, onions and spices -- to create an explosive flavor combination. There was none of the usual bitterness one sometimes encounters with cooked greens. Another plus, the greens were pureed perfectly -- not so much as to be mushy, but definitely soft and easy to eat. Also, the dish was amazingly low on oil!
BHARTAS (mashed side dishes served at room temp. -- like a chutney but much more substantial)
*Sutki bharta -- If I understood JFores correctly, this is made from fish that is treated in much the same way pickles are made in India -- dried in the sun and then sauteed with spices -- then mashed into a paste. I read online that this bharta supposedly has strong taste/smell, but I thought it was very tasty and mild. If I'm remembering correctly, its taste was similar to the "BBQ" pastes you find at Taiwanese hot pot places (for use in assembling your dipping sauce) -- salty and savoury, with a very slight spicy kick at the end. In short -- I really liked it.
*Aloo bharta -- I didn't get to try much of this, but what I did try was good. Lots of mustard oil gave the boiled/mashed potatoes the same wasabi-like flavor that the Spinach dish had. Also, there seemed to be red and green chilis, garlic, and lots of coriander leaves involved. Tasty!
*Begun bharta -- I'm guessing the eggplant in this had been roasted before being mashed up, which gave the dish a barely detectable smoky edge. Otherwise, this had the same same good stuff that the Aloo bharta had: plentiful mustard oil, chilis, garlic and coriander leaves.
*Shrimp & Aloo (?) bharta -- Was it shrimp & aloo (potato) or shrimp & chana daal (lentils made by removing the skins of chickpeas)? Either way, my vegetarian guilt kept me from trying this dish. :(
*Mixed Vegetable bharta (light green color) -- Amazing! This was my favorite among the bhartas we tried. Khokon, the owner, told me which vegetables are contained in this bharta (green beans, moong daal, squash and many others -- if I'm remembering correctly), but I was so caught up in the feasting action that I didn't write down the ingredients he mentioned, and now, of course, I can't remember them. Does anyone else know? At any rate, this bharta had the consistency of wasabi (i.e., it was very finely mashed) and offered a complex mix of flavors, with mustard oil, garlic and coriander leaves prominently represented among these.
*Tomato bharta -- This reminded me of tomato chutneys I've had in Indian homes, though the tomato chunks were large and had not been blended to smoothness. I think there were also onions, chilis and coriander in this bharta. And it's a good bet that garlic, mustard oil and possibly black mustard seeds were also involved. I liked it that the tomatoes were not so overly cooked that they had totally disintegrated. This bharta was halfway between the chopped tomatoes you might find in a salad and those you find blended into an Indian tomato chutney. Nice.
*Sandesh -- This was lighter than the Indian versions I've tried, and not too sweet. Though come prepared with your lactaid pills (if need be), as these are intensely dairy-ific. I assume these were made in-house -- does anyone know for sure?
*Gulab Jamun -- Mmmm...house-made, soft and fresh gulab jamuns the size of my fist!! Not too sugary sweet, but definitely rich. These were a world apart from the usual hard, stale commercial gulab jamuns one finds in most Indian sweet shops (Jax Heights, etc.). At the slightest application of pressure from my spoon, these jamuns pretty much collapsed into a semi-solid state. A good sign, in my book.
*Chai -- This was strong but the spices were well-balanced (i.e., not too much cardamum, cinnamon, etc.) I personally prefer lighter chai (i.e., removing the teabag before the chai gets too dark and strong), but this was enjoyable, though not amazing.
2109 Starling Ave, Bronx, NY 10462
The dal was actually just yellow and orange dal cooked down together. You're on with the tempering spices. Basically cumin, a bit of coriander, chillies and they seem to put tomatoes in their dal too.
ll the sweets are made in house and they usually have an even better sandesh. Their sweets in general are some of the best I've ever had.
The shutki chatni is made more like Sichuan chili bean paste. It's pretty much allowed to ferment past just drying and mixed with chillies which partially ferment too.
I'll take over two of the fish dishes as I can't remember the name of the one Chittagong specific fish.
The prakash mas (catfish) was extremely tender and flavorful. Bangladeshi fish almost always comes frozen and that means river fish like catfish should have even more of that muddy freshwater taste to them, but the flavors in this dish were too strong for that to come through. Basically flavorful white fresh and a delicious tomato based stew. I think I remember this having a strong hint of lime too.
The muha mas (basically anchovies. I think they might literally be more fully grown anchovies while keski mas are baby anchovies) was cooked with potatoes, other vegetables and immersed in a similar tomato based sauce. The flavors were comparable, but the slightly crunchy muha mas added a stronger fish note which made the dish come together. The potatoes were remarkably well cooked for something that is stewed and then sits on a steam table.
I really enjoyed the shutki chatni, which JFores has already broken down. He told me that this particular serving wasn't as potent as it usually is, so the paste was less pungent and more earthy and spicy in flavor. It was fantastic when mixed into the various bhartas with rice. I'm now curious to see if I'd feel the same way when it's at full stinky strength!
Hit Neerob for lunch, had a sampling of all the bhortas - mixed vegetable, aloo, aloo and lamb, tomato and eggplant - and an order of spinach, along with a can of soda. Total cost $8.
With the exception of the eggplant - granted, I'm not the biggest fan - I thought all the bhortas were terrific, especially the mixed vegetable. The spicing was complex and did a slow burn on my tongue. I noticed that each bhorta had a slightly smoky, almost musty undertone - what ingredient/spice is responsible for that?
The spinach was tremendous, one of the best spinach dishes I've ever had - in any cuisine. It was all I could do to restrain myself from scarfing the whole thing down and saving some to take home.
Eager to try other dishes - including the dal - especially at these prices.
2109 Starling Ave, Bronx, NY 10462
I thought the sharp bite in the bhartas came from the mustard oil (particularly noticable to me in the eggplant) and the smoky, musty undertone came from some sort of dried fish ingredient. But I may have misunderstood what JFores and/or the owner was saying about them.
gree that the spinach was/is fantastic.
kdgchow, go back and have the spinach and some dal for dinner. You won't be sorry.
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