Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Kew Gardens, NY
Review by Diana, MaceVindaloo
We had initially avoided this place because we thought it was Italian. Italian food can be good, but lately, we'd gone "off" the genre and had been heading to Golden Sea for the prospect of soup noodles or something Chinesey, but they had a sign on the door baldly stating "45 minute wait" and a mob of people waiting and looking at their watches ... so we decided to try to "Italian place" across the street. But what Italian place represents itself with an elephant? Didn't Hammurabi invade Rome with elephants?|
No wait, that was Hannibal ... yeesh, we're too hungry ...
Of course, it turned out we were wrong ... about a great many things, allowing some mistaken phonetics and bad memories of history class to mislead us. It's a chain of Indian restaurants with 18 locations throughout New York City, and rated quite well by the Zagat's Guide, America's egalitarian equivalent of the Michelin Guide. Despite it's pitch for mass appeal, there were many Indian families there, as well as people who had come from across the street mumbling about the 45 minute wait. While it confirmed our assessment of Golden Sea, we worried if Baluchi's tends to get spillover business from them?
Musicians were setting up, and we wondered if we'd like the music. Some of us had been exposed to Bollywood or tapes of popular Mumbai hits, and they can be ... shrill? Yeah, shrill is the word, in a vibrato type of way. But we figured if we hated it enough to interfere with our digestion, we could always have the food bagged up and enjoy it elsewhere.
As is our habit when visiting a new place, we order standard things: saag panir (spinach and cheese); chicken tikka masala (roasted spiced chicken in a tomato cream sauce); lamb vindaloo (onion gravy curry); lamb biryani (seasoned rice); naan, or clay oven baked flatbread. We do this because we're not as familiar with Indian food as other types, and we still consider Maurya to be the standard for comparison!
It was good, though less flavorful than at other places, meaning not hot ... and it was kind of sourish, meaning more lemon juice maybe. There seemed to be more fresh ginger used than usual, too. It wasn't bad at all; different from what we normally expected, but new flavor notes, and we did finish what we'd ordered.
The music started as our food came, and to our surprise, the bongo-type drums and the sitar music was kind of jazzy, and much more like Beatles music from the end of their group career. It was soothing, rhythmic, and we noticed a small child kept gravitating to it, mesmerized. As each piece was done, there was applause and a flurry of tips for the musicians. They also sang and none of it was overbearing or forceful; they matched the food in this respect. It was touristy Indian perhaps, but pleasant, and the people who had been looking forward to Chinese food and instead had come here seemed happily surprised, too.
I guess this could be called "starter Indian," for people who are afraid of "real" ethnic food? The decor is somewhat familiar, in that every "ethnic" restaurant went through a phase of having water fountains and preconceived notions of decor on display. We noted the pottery style plates, circa 1970s it seemed? And steel-lined copper tumblers for water. It all seemed to fit together in this almost too-dark place.
The service was good, but you'll notice in Indian places there seem to be no waitresses, just male servers. And it seemed that in this place, all the servers were related to one another, so they'd give gruff orders, which would be followed sometimes reluctantly. In every culture, with kids, what can one do?
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