The Huntington Village food scene just got a major infusion of spice with the opening of this lively new South Asian grill. Its draw is an affordable selection of marinated grilled kebabs.
These are hardly everyday kebabs - nor are the soups, appetizers or breads the least bit ordinary. That's attributable to the talents of Pakistani-born chef-owner Tabassum Ali, whose passion for cooking became a profession after the photography store he owned on the same site went under. Talk about blessings in disguise.
SPICE OF LIFE
A basket of irresistible naan comes hot from the tandoor; it's gratis and pairs well with a bowl of kaukswe (pronounced cow-sway), a subtly fiery Burmese soup made with coconut milk, lentil flour, chicken, vegetables and rice. Competition takes the form of a deftly spiced Mulligatawny, also lentil-based. Wedges of potato-stuffed aloo naan evoke thin, exquisitely flaky knishes.
Then, there's a mixed grill combo (available as appetizer or main course) of marinated grilled beef, lamb and chicken tikka kebabs (cubes) as well as beef, lamb and chicken seekh kebabs (spicy meat sausages). All juicy, delicious.
A sizzling platter holds a pile of succulent, flavor-intense lamb chops. Cornish hen, available half or whole, is beautifully burnished; juices run at the touch of a fork. From the looks of a salmon kebab special, I presuppose the bronze chunks will be dry. Instead, they are moist within, ingeniously spiced.
Then, there's the Indian-inspired chicken tikka masala, chunks of poultry in a vibrant crimson sauce. Saga paneer, spinach with cheese, is a casserole of creamy comfort.
The waiter brings a gratis dessert of rasmalai (cheese balls) in heavy cream. It's something I've never been partial to. Until now.
Another finale, "milk cake" is dense and leaden. And gulab jamun (fried cheese balls) are served too cold.
When food this good is so inexpensive (many entrees are less than $10 and even the lamb chops are only $17), go ahead and indulge shamelessly.
Spice Village Grill is located at 281 Main St., Huntington.
Turning Up The Heat At The Spice Village Grill
By Danny & Saral/ email@example.com
Don't be fooled - Spice Village Grill is not just an Indian restaurant. Born in Lahore, Pakistan in 1952, owner Tabassum Ali came to the United States in 1980, providing a key link to his culinary vision. He watched his mother cook as a young boy, and his roots encouraged him to fuse Indian, Pakistani, Persian and Afghani recipes. Now, he's turned his hobby into a business. Once he built his roots in the States, Ali racked up as many as 13 storefronts, but sold them all except for his digs on Main Street in Huntington - the corner of Main and Wall Streets is just too good to give up, he said. A Huntington resident since 1986, Ali opened a camera shop at the location in 1991, which he closed last January. Then, the family briefly transformed the storefront into a hookah lounge before Spice Village opened about a month ago. The small, cozy dining room, naturally lit through its large windows and dressed in black tablecloths, maroon linens and throw rugs, was filled to capacity during our Friday lunch visit. Ali's soups of the day - vegetarian Mulligatawny and Kaukswe ($4.50) - are both good starters. The Mulligatawny, with its rich curry and lentil flavor, is thick and satisfying without being dense, while the Kaukswe (pronounced cow-sway) is a unique medley of flavors with rice, chicken and vegetables. The aroma hints at a buttery base, while a bright lemon note emerges after you take a spoonful.
Chicken Tikka Masala ($10.99) is mild and savory, and the medallions of chicken pair well with Spice Village's excellent basmati rice. Soak up the aromatic cream sauce with some naan bread, which will run you no more than $2.50.
Torn on our entre decision, we decided to go for a little of everything, thanks to the Mixed Grill ($14.99). A good place to start for first-time visitors, the platter comes with a small rib eye steak, chicken, lamb and shrimp seekh kebabs, and chicken and lamb tikka. The juicy tender lamb is the zestiest of the bunch; the remarkably tender chicken is next in line on the spicy list. The fresh, juicy shrimp and the rib eye are smoky and mellow, while the seekh kebabs, or meat sausages, are nutty and delicious; the lamb sausage packs an extra, spicy punch.
After our entrees, Gulab Jamun, or sugary dough balls, are served warm in sweet, but not oppressive, rosewater - cardamom syrup, and Sooji Halwa is warm, enticing and semi-sweet semolina browned with cardamom and simmered in scented sugar with almonds and raisins. All five of the restaurant's desserts, which include Zarda Rice, Ras Malai and Milk Cake, run about $5.
Thus we took advantage one of the untold joys of splitting a mixed grill for lunch - plenty of room for dessert.