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Dosa Overdose

26 Apr

Gerry took us to Jersey City in the summer of 2006 where we discovered an Indian enclave not too far from the Journal Square Path station.

Sri Ganesh’s Dosa House
809 Newark Avenue
Jersey City.

No clogged tunnel, backed up bridge, construction-littered turnpike or potholed parkway ever deters Gerry from his choice of destination for our intrepid group. We now suspect that the tougher it is to get to, the more attractive the choice is to Gerry—the food is secondary. He has taken us on the Saw Mill Parkway for Southern barbecue in Valhalla, over the George Washington Bridge for Korean in Fort Lee, on the New England Thruway to Portchester for Guatemalan, and in a legendary schlep, through the Battery Tunnel, over the BQE, and onto the Belt Parkway for overpriced Turkish food in Sheepshead Bay. So when Gerry announced his choice; a vegetarian Indian restaurant in the heart of industrial darkness in downtown Jersey City, no one was really surprised.

  After too many fume-inhaling experiences sitting in Holland tunnel traffic, driving was not an option for me. I called Sri Ganesh’s Dosa House, our destination, and was told that the restaurant was a five-minute walk from the Journal Square PATH station. Zio wisely joined me and after circling Journal Square trying to find our bearings, waiting for Zio’s GPS navigation system to talk to him and get us to 809 Newark Avenue, Zio commented that there was something surreal about where we were. Could it be the monotonous din of skateboards hitting concrete? The sight of glorious movie houses silently shuttered? The glassy look in the eyes of those emerging from the PATH? We didn’t really know. Finally, instead of waiting for Zio’s toy to work in the circuit-congested air of Jersey City, we broke down and asked someone on the street for directions. On Newark Street we saw a sign for a Dosa Hut and walked toward it. Soon we were in the middle of Jersey City’s Little India with dosa huts everywhere, Indian grocery stores, sweet shops and video stores. Who knew?

 Waiting outside Sri Ganesh’s Dosa House was Eugene, a scowl on his already dour face. Before we could even greet him, he began a tirade against Gerry for his ill-advised choice. Making him sit in traffic for hours. No place to park. And no GPS navigation system to help him out. What was he thinking? The cafeteria-like restaurant was bustling with business; Indian families lining up to place orders. We found table # 11 and took a look at the menu that featured South Indian vegetarian dishes; the centerpiece being the dosa, a long, torpedo-like thinly fried bread stuffed with a variety of different vegetables. Gerry called; according to his GPS navigation system, he was .9 miles from the restaurant. But he wasn’t moving. He was stuck behind a motorcycle convoy. Mike from Yonkers called, he was on the New Jersey Turnpike, but he wasn’t moving either; stuck in traffic from an accident with “fatalities.” There was not much we three could do at Sri Ganesh’s but begin to eat.

The Dosa: Does size matter?

 Eugene ordered a channa onion-chili masala dosa. While we waited, we helped ourselves to complimentary yellow lentil soup that immediately brought on a chili-induced sweat. Our table number was called and Eugene retrieved the two-foot long dosa which came with coconut chutney and another condiment called sambhar. We took apart the dosa easily, pausing only to wipe the perspiration from our foreheads. Gerry called again; he was still .9 miles away. I went up and ordered a cheese and mixed vegetable “uttapam delight,” kind of an Indian foccaccia, a bread filled with chilis, cheese, and onions, accompanied as well by coconut chutney and sambhar. To try to quell the fire in our mouths, I also ordered a vegetable biryani, known at Sri Ganesh’s as a “rice-delight.”

Chili doughnuts, also known as “masala vada.”

Gerry arrived in time to scarf down a few of the remaining pieces of the uttapam delight while deftly ignoring Eugene’s incessant complaints. It wasn’t long before he caught up with the rest of us and with the addition of a masala vada, a fried savory donut stuffed, yes, with chilis and onions, and another dosa, this one a Banglore ghee masala dosa, Zio and I had our fill of starch. Dosas, we learned, are best enjoyed in small doses. As an afterthought, someone mentioned Mike from Yonkers. Gerry shrugged; there had been no further word. Gerry is to be complimented for introducing us to Jersey City and the world of dosas, but we are grateful that it will be a long time before he takes on his next journey.


Dining with Sikhs

4 Jan

The first eating adventure of 2004, and the start of our third year of food gatherings, was one of our most memorable. Eugene gets the credit for bringing Tandoori Hut to our attention; the meal was so good we still talk about it. If we compiled a top ten over the years, Tandoori Hut certainly would have made it into the top five. Below is what we experienced on a cold winter’s night seven years ago.

Tandoori Hut
119-04 94th Avenue
Richmond Hill

 

 

It took almost two years of our gluttonous gatherings, but finally, due to ten inches of snow, we were forced to postpone. None of us, with the very notable exception of Zio who was still stuck in the frozen tundra of East Hartford, can go very long without our exotic food fix so we were able to convene the following night at our assigned (by Eugene) destination of Tandoori Hut in Richmond Hill, Queens. Driving down the stark stretch of Atlantic Avenue, we were immediately reminded of our last venture to this region when we feasted on jerk pork lo mein and curry goat at the Guyanese-Chinese hybrid, the festive Atlantic Bamboo Gardens.

Tandoori Hut was easy to find; it was just across the street from the Punjabi Palace. This was obviously curry central of Richmond Hill. Save for one other couple, Eugene was sitting all alone when we arrived at the very dimly-lit restaurant. I took a seat facing the television which was showing a succession of music videos called “Punjabi Gold;” a Bollywood version of MTV. There was music playing but I wasn’t sure it corresponded with the videos; thankfully there were subtitles making it easier to follow the intense drama of the videos.

Punjabi Gold

After ten minutes I had enough of Punjabi Gold and was more than ready for some tandoori. Our waitress attempted to get us to order, but when we asked for the usual help with the menu, embarrassed by her difficulties with English, or ours with Hindi, she turned to a man who seemed to be the owner. He was seemingly confident, accustomed to dealing with our type; non-Asian and looking for a taste of the exotic. We asked for his recommendations. Tandoori being their specialty, he led us to the mixed tandoori special along with a tandoori fish. When we prompted him to continue—to suggest more items on the menu, he seemed unprepared. Gerry asked about a vindaloo. “But vindaloo is very hot,” he said. Yes, we want hot, we replied. He seemed doubtful and then shrugged. “I’ll make you a fish vindaloo,” he said warily. And some saag paneer, dal, basmati rice, and more bread, we added. “I’ll make you a garlic nan,” he said. Eugene inquired if we had ordered enough. Our waiter shrugged, he was obviously unaware of our almost limitless capacity for food consumption.

The first thing to hit the table was a huge mound of sizzling tandoori meats. It didn’t look pretty, what we could see of it in the dark, but once it stopped sizzling and when we tasted it, especially the chicken, we knew we had found tandoori nirvana. Besides the chicken there were pieces of spicy lamb sausage and what we thought was lamb, but was actually dark meat chicken coated in a rich brown paste. The tandoori fish followed; pieces of salmon roasted in the restaurant’s tandoori oven and perfectly moist. The fish vindaloo also salmon was also incredibly tender. Gerry complained that it wasn’t hot enough; yet after a few bites there was that residual heat that is so much more effective than that first quick hit you sometimes get with spicy food. The garlic nan was more potent than any garlic knot or garlic bread I’ve ever experienced while the saag paneer was a very nice cooling alternative to all the heat on the table.

Our meal at Tandoori Hut was blessed.

While we were devouring the platters in front of us, the restaurant was slowly filling up with groups of Sikhs. An Indian restaurant that has a loyal following of Sikhs definitely has something going for it. After the ignominious Uncle George’s Greek Tavern experience, we were all very happy to have found our touch again. As is our practice, we finished everything on the platters and when our waiter asked if we wanted “something sweet,” all we could do was shake our heads. Something sweet might interfere with the pleasant party that was still going on in our mouths. Instead, we gathered our heavy winter garb, leaving their Sikhs to enjoy their meal, and headed out onto frigid Atlantic Avenue.

A year after dining at Tandoori Hut, Frank Bruni wrote glowingly about the restaurant in the New York Times, “Diner’s Journal.” Scooping the Times was satisfying for our group. It was one of our objectives; to find restaurants before they were truly discovered. As we all know, once the Times mentions a place, that place is changed forever and often not for the good, especially in the cheap eats universe we travel.  Despite how good Tandoori Hut was, I haven’t returned though desperately want to. I did, however, pass the restaurant and noticed it was in the same location and with a slightly more attractive sign. Otherwise, it looked like nothing had changed at all…despite Frank Bruni’s praise.

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