CHer group brunch at Toosso in Sterling
Toosso (Pakistani street food focused menu) has been open for almost a couple of years now. When it first opened, it had a lot of growing pains, and it wasn't getting rave reviews. (Reviews that Toosso was mediocre are here on the board, actually by yours truly.) But for some time now, I kept hearing from friends that it had gotten a lot better and become consistently good. In particular, I had heard that their weekend halwa-puri service and weekend nihaari were really great.
Steve kindly arranged a CH meet there last Sunday to try their weekend brunch time menu. Here is a report:
Usually the halwa-puri comes by the plate on a compartmentalized tray, but for our group of 6, they served the curries and halwa family style. We ordered 4 puris and split them amongst ourselves. FYI, halwa-puri is an Indo-Pak traditional breakfast consisting of chickpea curry, potato curry, and semolina pudding (the halwa) served with puris, or deep fried flat bread. Every single dish in the halwa puri was superb. The halwa is really rich, and one can only have a few bites of it. The chickpea curry was perfectly seasoned it a brown onion-tomato based gravy, and the potato curry, studded with nigella seeds with a "pickling masala" tangy flavor profile was equally delicious. Toosso's puris are simultaneously crispy and extremely soft, though a bit oily, as might be expected from a deep fried flat bread.
We also ordered the nihaari. This curry is made with the part of the beef shank that looks like a fish, which cooked until extremely tender, so tender that is falls apart when prodded with a spoon. Nihaari gravy is browned onion and spice flavored, with the signature spice being fennel powder. Toosso's nihaari was outsanding. It is served with soft naan and the traditional nihaari garnishes of cilantro, green chile, and fresh match stick slices of ginger. One eats this from a bowl since the gravy is soupy, scooping it up with pieces of naan.
We also ordered a variety of dishes from the regular menu. We tried the qeema, kofta, biryani, bun kabab, tandoori chicken, channa chaat, and dahi bhalla.
The qeema (seasoned ground meat, in this case beef) was a crowd pleaser at the table. It matched well with the halwa puri meal.
Everyone liked the kofta (meatballs in tomato gravy) but it didn't seem that special to me. It was just semi broken kofta in a tomato gravy. Everyone liked it, but I would probably not order that one again.
We selected chicken biryani. It was an excellent biryani, and heavily perfumed with keora jal--pandanus/screw-pine flower extract, see link if you are curious. http://www.ganeshproducts.com/kewraja...
The bun kabab is a buttered, griddle toasted hamburger bun with tamarind sauce, onion slices, cilantro, and a spiced channa daal-beef puree patty that has been dipped in egg and then pan fried (this daal-meat patty is called a shaami kabaab). I was surprised that everyone at the table wasn't impressed by this, as they said it reminded them too much of a hamburger. I actually really enjoy bun-kabaab, as it looks like a hamburger (sort of) but flavor wise is tangy from tamarind and spicy, and I love shaami kabaabs because they are so tender and have a very different texture than a ground beef hamburger patty.
My friends had recommended that we try the tandoori chicken. This dish was really stunning. It was bone in marinated chicken pieces grilled with good charr on them. This is how tandoori chicken comes in Pakistan, and it was very tender and flavorful. I think tandoori chicken gets a bad name on Indian-American faux Mughlai-Punjabi buffet restaurants, where it is often dried out breast cubes dyed bright red with food coloring, so some people were wary about ordering this item, but everyone was oohing and aahing over it when they ate it. We were really stuffed by the point it was eaten, so that is a sign of how good it was, since the palette gets less and less impressed with food sometimes once one gets too full.
We ordered some chapatti with these. The chapatti is what they use for their roll items (meat or veg stuffed into a flat bread with tamarind seasoning, like a wrap). Their chapatti dough has oil/ghee in it so it comes out more similar to a paraatha instead of regular chapatti.
The channa chaat was just chickpeas, onion, yoghurt, tamarind sauce, and puris (this puri is a hard Ritz sized cracker and not the same puri as above in the halwa puri). I thought it was really delicious but some diners commented that they preferred mixed chaat with more seasonings and crunchies in their chaat.
Everyone raved about the dahi bhalle. Dahi bhalla are lentil dumplings served in seasoned yoghurt. The dumplings were perfectly soft and everyone was impressed by them.
We were excessively stuffed so we couldn't try Toosso's signature falooda dessert. It is vaguely like bubble tea, with in-house kulfi (Indo-Pak ice cream, also available on the menu) in milk, rose water syrup (Rooh Afzah), rehydrated dried basil seeds, agar agar jello, nuts, and falooda noodles, which are made of arrow root. This is a really great dessert at Toosso that many people rave about.
Overall, everyone was extremely impressed by our meal. It is definitely worth of visit if you enjoy North Indian-Pakistani foods. On weekends at brunch time the restaurant is known to be very crowded, and the nihaari sometimes sells out, so if you do plan to stop by, I would recommend coming at 10:30-11:30 and not later. (I believe they serve the weekend special menu until 2:30.)
I found the breakfast halwa puri to be outrageously delicious. And to borrow some of the OP's analysis, truly homestyle. Not with a lot of raw spices or overly creamy texture, but with the potato and chickpeas keeping their structural integrity. This dish was heavenly and dreamy. The very sweet semolina made it recognizably breakfast-y. Definitely weekends before 2:30pm are a great way to experience Toosso.
Form the regualar menu, the qeema was a stunner, and I will no longer scoff at eating ground beef - yes, it has a very delicious use!
Also the regular menu shows off a very nice biryani in which the rice seems light as a feather. No calories, right?
This was a great meal that we enjoyed in a group setting - go before 2:30pm and you will be well rewarded. I am already thinking about my return.
Thanks for writing up the review, luckyfatima. Over a week later, and we're still talking about this place! I agree that one should get there early for the breakfast items - those were definite standouts. And thanks for sharing your knowledge (and pronunciations!) of this cuisine - it definitely made for a more enjoyable meal.