by Kat Robinson
Pakistani fusion: a little confusing? Think Indian, but further northwest. There you go. Now, go try Masala Grill and Teahouse.
We went last night… heck, we’ve been meaning to go for a while but every time we’d tried to get our act together and head that way something would happen. This time, we were in luck… and not just with our timing.
First things first, chai. Our waiter took our order as we strapped Hunter into a highchair and grabbed a menu. What was delivered a few minutes later wasn’t the traditional masala chai offered on the menu but Karachi Chai. Our waiter let us know the staff had brewed some up in the back, and he’d bring us Masala Chai on the refill. I was really pleased by this happy mistake. The Karachi Chai is a more mature flavor, with savory and friendly notes that exude comfort. Teas are a focus at the place, and they run $2.50 (except black tea, which is $1.50). And yes, milk is an option in your tea. Yay!
I could brag on tea all day, but you want to know about the food. And what I think you’ll find is that the menu’s really reasonably priced, especially for a high-class ethnic fusion restaurant like this.
We were expecting to splurge a little. After all, you tend to pay a bit more for Subcontinent Fare as it is. So we ordered up a Layered Home Made Paratha ($2.99) and an order of Mini Kebab Rolls ($3.50). While we waited we munched on papadum and a sweet plum sauce. The sauce was a lot sweeter and spicier than we’ve had at Indian restaurants in the area. The papads are cumin-flavored, a favorite of mine. All very good.
I was quite pleased with both of our appetizer offerings. The Paratha was very buttery and warm, with all the comfort hot fresh bread brings. It was served up with a creamy cilantro chutney that had a smack of minty heat at the end. Well, either it was or the rolls were -- it all came out at once. The Mini Kebab Rolls were nice little appetizers, spice-ful but not spicy chapli-style kebab pieces wrapped in dough and fried. Hunter liked these the best out of our meal, and ended up commandeering most of the order from us.
The hubster went for a Seekh Kebab Roll ($6.49), a massive piece of naan stuffed with chunks of seasoned beef cooked with a generous amount of onion, turmeric and other spices. It had a strong savory flavor with a gracious amount of heat to it. The sheer size of it -- nearly 10 inches long and quite wide -- made it a very filling entrée.
I chose the Chicken Qorma ($7.99), expecting something similar to an Indian Chicken Korma. And there are similarities. The chicken itself is diced similarly and many of the spices are identical. But while a Korma tends to be creamy and nutty, this Qorma was brothy and spicy, with flavor that had soaked well into the chicken. It was really flavorful but at the same time a little too spicy for me to give to my daughter (though she probably would have loved that, too, had I been able to wrestle any of the Kebab Rolls she’d acquired from her possession). The rice tempered it to an acceptable hot for me. Its fragrant notes of clove and turmeric were a real turn-on even before I tried the chicken.
Our next round of tea arrived, and I found the Masala Chai to be strong with the flavor of good tea and cardamom, with distinct anise notes (my tongue felt just a tiny bit numb). It also came a little sweeter in my estimation.
We knew we were going to have Kheer ($3.49), it was just a given. Kheer makes the world a better place, and even though I’ve had it a dozen different ways I still feel that way about the milky rice pudding. My husband decided he’d order it, allowing me to try something else. Instead of the cashew nut that comes in the kheer at our local Indian restaurants (both of them), the nut of choice in this version is pistachio, giving the concoction a fruity flavor that’s separate from the raisins within. I think I also tasted almonds in it.
I had to try the Ras Malai ($2.99), a dessert made from cottage cheese and sweetened milk served with pistachios. I’d been warned that this was the popular dessert on the menu and I see why. The preparation firms up the cottage cheese into its own sort of paneer, with that great cheesy texture. It’s lightly sweet all the way through, but the nuttiness of the pistachio takes it a bit further. It’s both light and substantial at the same time, and a real treat. Bonus -- it also kills whatever heat is left over from the other items in the dinner. I’ll be ordering it again.
We’d expected to go in and pay $40 or more for dinner, but our check came in under $34. The prices are pretty reasonable and while the portion size of some items may not equal that offered at local Indian restaurants, you are definitely getting a different experience. It’s subtle on the American scale. Think of it as you might think of the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese restaurants. If both register in your mind as Chinese, then Masala is going to fit right into your lexicon with the Indian restaurants in town. For the more cultured tongue, it’s going to come across as delightfully different. I’m so glad I fit into that latter group.
You’ll find Masala Grill and Teahouse off Rodney Parham at Reservoir in that same shopping center as Drug Emporium. They do a lunch buffet from 11:30 to 2:30 that I’m planning to go back for. And they’re open 5:30 to 9:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday for evening diners. But don’t go Monday. They’re closed then. The restaurant has a Facebook page, or you can call (501) 414-0643.