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.
1024 Jean-Talon W.