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New to Jackson Heights: Dhaka Kabab and Biriyani House

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New to Jackson Heights: Dhaka Kabab and Biriyani House

Jim Leff | Jul 3, 2004 08:29 PM

This place finally opened yesterday; I'd been waiting for months. It's upstairs and in back of a North Indian grocery - you trudge past freezers full of meat and barrels of ghee, I can't imagine how they're going to attract any customers (though Grand Sweets, tucked way back in an obscure alleyway across the street, has managed ok, they're getting nice crowds...also, not sure I reported it earlier, but if you can get them to roast you a tandoori chicken to order, you'll risk a heart attack from its jarring hyperdeliciousness).

Dhaka Kabab looks like it's set-up for the Bangladeshi analog of a low rent bar mitzvah or communion--cheap tables half-heartedly jazzed up with cheap coverings. All painted white. You look around the room for the punch bowl.

They seem to be making a virtue of not cooking to order; the steam table is given pride of place - so much so that you'd think it was a buffet, and feeled compelled spooning. But it's not a buffet. There's a menu listing a few of the displayed dishes (which change daily) and a bunch of really obscure sounding dishes I've never heard of - none of which are actually available.

It gets worse (and better).

I went with a friend, and asked for an order of samosas. We got two orders. We asked for an order of pomfret dopiaza. We got two orders. This is what I call the Noah's Arc Scam. They hope you'll shrug it off and pay double. We complained, and they retracted the duplicates.

Oh, and as we sat down, they brought us two bottles of Poland Springs water. I pointed at a virtual sea of water pitchers containing tap water. They feigned myopia. I handed them back the Poland Springs. They figured it out.

Other bad omens:

We got a HUGE plate of naan bread, which was fairly old and disappointing, and which I"d not ordered.

I asked for papri chat, and the waiter thought I said papadam (my pronunciation of papri chat has been complimented in other Bengali restaurnats, so it was just that a gringo couldn't possibly have really asked for papri chat).

I was getting angry, and ruefully expected to see an inflated bill and have to do some haggling. But I was much assuaged by the food itself, which is wonderful. Chicken biryani looks like the usual meager neighborhood version, sweetened fatty rice with some cursory meat chunks and artificial coloring. But this stuff was good, and the chunks were flavorful. It came with a little bowl holding two stewed chicken legs which had nothing whatever to do, flavor-wise, with the rice (but fit with no other order, so it must have been a biryani sidecar) and which were beyond wonderful, cooked with love. They had such intense flavor that I forgave their utter lack of spice.

Nothing had spice. Nary a particle of chili registered on my palate. But since all the food came off those steamtables, I can only assume that everyone gets served mild food, and we weren't getting the gringo treatment. I don't care, it killed.

Samosas were classy, fried to order in extraordinarily fresh and well-heated oil. Dal was extremely fresh and homestyle. Nice tomato salad. A Bengali fish special (in what tasted like a dopiyaza sauce) was a bit too fishy (though not badly so), and the sauce was well done but suffered from the lack of peppery fire (without bracing spice, dopiyaza's oniony sweetness can cloy a bit). The papadam, shiny with oil, was perfectly crisp and had a vitality other versions always lack.

Then the dreaded bill came. The dinner total for two people over-ordering was $11. They had forgotten to add in the samosas. When I pointed this out (swelling our total to $15), the owner got teary-eyed at my honesty. He shook my hand and thanked us for coming. He has very high hopes for his restaurant. We were the only customers. We should have taken the damned Poland Spring. Oh, the naan, the dahl, and the papadam were all included.

I love these ups and downs, the drama, the shifting realities of chowhounding. And, for now, at least, while the kitchen rides its grand opening inertia and hasn't yet grown jaded, I love Dhaka Kabab and Biriyani House (37-11 73rd St, inside Haat Bazar, Jackson Heights, NY; 718-205-8588).

The trick with good new places in Jackson Heights is to go often while they're good. The quality often doesn't last. When a place takes a dive, jump off to the latest new opening. It's like surfing, always watching for the next wave.

ciao

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