When I went to Malagueta restaurant last week, I prowled around the neighborhood. That part of Astoria was new to me. Just off the main street, a dimly lit restaurant seemed enticing. You've gotta love a place where the specials are written on the wall in Bengali only, no translation. The young lady who worked there spoke fluent English. They had fresh whole tilapia, she told me, cooked to order. (Most of their stuff is not; it languishes on steam tables.) I'll be back, I told her, for the tilapia. Today I came back.
We're closed today, they told me, for a private party. And indeed they were arranging the chairs to face a central podium, behind which a banner proudly proclaimed "Federation of International Bangladeshi Cultural Associations" But I've come from Manhattan, I said, just to eat here. She called the boss, they consulted, and set up a table for me. I asked for a whole tilapia, spicy. So they cooked the tilapia.
The fish, cooked in mustard oil, was covered with sauteed vegetables, including pickled peppers. It swam in a yellowish brown broth that was indeed wonderfully spicy. On another plate was a mountain of rice. In a bowl, a lemongrass(!)-flavored broth for the rice. There was also salad, and a warm spicy potato salad. All this was eight dollars, tax included.
The woman was nervous, worried I wouldnt like the fish. Oh I did, I did. They smiled. I ate.
And no, it's not nearly as good as Spicy Mina's. They didnt grind their own spices. They may even have used curry powder. But if you wandered around the back streets of Dhaka, you might well find places that look and feel like this. If the Federation of International Bangladeshi Cultural Associations wanted a meeting place that would make their members feel right at home, they couldn't have chosen better.
Cafe Jhill, 35-55 33 St (two minute walk from 36 Av N stop) (718) 937-4200