Recently I posed Pauls idea of a taste-off among the Tenderloins Pakistani quadrangle to Malik. He shrugged saying hed already made the rounds and long ago declared Shalimar the winner. He invited me to join him some time at Shalimar to see for myself.
Soon Derek (ChowFun) and I found myself seated at a long table presided over by Godfather-like Rizwan with 14 of his friends. Members of this group meet here each Wednesday for goat curry and other standards. Apparently the goat curry is prepared here for transport to the Fremont branch for its Thursday special, but a portion is set aside for Rizwan. While Ive often had take-out, this was the first time Id eaten on-site at Shalimar. As part of this group, we even had table service.
Malik took over ordering for all of us, spitting out Urdu in rapid fire fashion and directing plates of food to each corner. Then hed turn to his right to converse with one friend in French, and then explain yet another dish to me in English. An impressive performance.
He places Shalimar on top based on five dishes: Tandoori lamb chop, Tandoori whole chicken leg, Seekh kabab Mughlai, Bhuna gosht (butter lamb curry), and the aforementioned goat curry special. The seasoning on the tandoori meats is more aggressive and complex. Malik pointed out the difference in taste between the lamb rib chop and the loin chop, having me try them side by side the thinner rib chop picks up more of the seasoning for more intense flavor. Id given up on tandoori chicken, after being subjected to so many dried out examples, but Shalimars made me a believer again with this succulent example deeply infused with intricate spicing. The seekh kabab and the bhuna gosht were as good as ever, where Shalimar has had my top vote in the past. Dereks comment on the firey seekh kabab was You know somethings really hot and spicy when the raw onions on your plate are the mildest part. The goat curry was nice with some gingery spice but was not that distinctive. Rizwan didnt think it was as good as it should be and insisted that I come back to try it again.
I tried Haleem for the first time and was fascinated by the mucilaginous texture. Rizwan said its made from a special mix of lentils and either wheat or barley that gives it that almost poi-like gooey consistency. It was combined with minced beef and some exotic spicing.
We also had Palak paneer (spinach and fresh cheese) that was cooked down more than the fresher-tasting version at Naan n Curry that I like better, and Kabli channa (chickpeas). Chicken kofta was tasty, but simpler in spicing than Pakwans. The Raita was thin and uninteresting.
The Chawal was well-seasoned and aromatic, but too greasy and heavy. Malik agreed with me that Naan n Currys basmati rice is superior. Likewise, I got him to concede that Naan n Curry makes better naan and mango lassi, although I did really like the Aloo paratha delhvi (whole wheat flat bread stuffed with spicy potatoes) here. Rizwan interjected that Naan n Curry is too quick to add cream, in his opinion, ruining the taste of many dishes. He explained that good cooks may add yogurt to a dish, being careful to temper it at the right stage in the cooking process to not cover up the taste of the ingredients with too much cream.
For dessert we had Gulab jaman, initially served cold, but Rizwan sent them back to be heated. The Banarsi kheer (rice pudding) was especially good with a faint seductive whiff of rosewater, an undertone of sweet spices and blended with pistachios and almonds. Rizwan explained that the rice is hand-ground, lending this unique texture and roundness of flavor. Apparently this was a return to Shalimars original recipe after a brief deviation to mechanized methods that gave poor results. That must be the secret, since this was the best that Ive had.
Full of good food and companionship, we parted ways and promised to do this again. My thanks to Rizwan and Malik for allowing me to be a VIP by association at Shalimar.
532 Jones St.
Other locations on Polk St. in SF and Fremont, opening soon in Santa Clara.