I was driving up to Long Island from D.C. for the day yesterday, and I had 45 minutes or so to spare for lunch. Notwithstanding the legendary delays, I decided to give Mina a shot. Risky, I know. But I just had to see what all the fuss was about. I was alone, and therefore I wasn't going to be able to sample even a sliver of the extensive menu; so I simply tried two items that have gotten a bunch of raves here -- Chicken Korma and the Onion Kulka. I also asked for Baigan Achar, as Jim instructs, but the waiter insisted that I had to try the Baigan Bhurta instead, which he said was a "great" dish that he loves. Silly me -- for a couple of bucks extra, I could have had both eggplant concoctions! (Indeed, looking back on the menu I realize I could've ordered just about every one of the 127 things on it for the price of a couple of pieces of Toro at Masa.) I also decided to try a Borhani, figuring I could add a lassi if the Bohani flavors was a bit too discombobulating.
Well, my food arrived in fifteen minutes (!), and it was uniformly remarkable. I saw immediately why everything might taste different on every visit: Each item really *felt* as though it were a bold and uncharted experiment in spices, peppers and (especially) onions, performed by a fearless chef with an amazing palate and great instincts. (Naturally, this sort of high-wire act might result in duds from time to time; but I got lucky -- four for four.) As you might expect, I was awfully stuffed -- for $15. And yet as I exited, I was practically hitting myself for not having spent an additional few bucks in order to also try the Biryani or Pulao ($7), Moong Dal Fry ($3), Shrimp Dopiyaja w/Roti ($8), Haleem ($5), the great lookin' whole fried catfish that the table across the way ordered (Jim, you think that's the "Fish Fry" ($8)?), Paneer Pasanda ($6), etc. After all, it might be years before I have occasion to be in Sunnyside again. (Important note to those who live in or visit New York but who are wary of traveling to Queens: Mina is much closer to midtown than, e.g., the Upper East Side is to Tribeca.)
Holding the menu now in my hands, I feel as though I have before me one of the those precious ancient maps of runes disclosing secret hidden treasures . . . . Enough to keep me wondering for a long time to come. (Hmmm, I wonder what's better?: The Kemma Alu or the Tehari? Can I even imagine a smidgen about how either of those might taste?)
And to top it off, during the entire 50 minutes that I was there, the television was playing this amazing, one-revelation-leads-to-another, *single* production number from some outrageously over-the-top Bollywood flick. If the food had not been so delicious, I wouldn't have been able to take my eyes off it.
I'm smitten. You "Outer" Borough folks are *so* fortunate (what with this and Sripraphai). I'm half-inclined to encourage the DC Chowhounds to start a collection to subsidize a move of Mina and her crew here to D.C. If anyone knows of anything similar within, say, 100 miles of here, I'd be forever grateful . . .