Bombay to Kabul
Sunday, January 22, 2006
By Cody Kendall
Article published in “The Star Ledger” New Jersey
Don't let the name fool you. Bombay to Kabul is not a diner; it's a pleasant candle-lit restaurant with striking red tablecloths, cushy chairs and refined, helpful service.
Milind Joshi, who also owns Maharajah near the United Nations in New York, explained that for his New Jersey outpost, "I wanted a name that's a little more mainstream America. So I thought of `diner.' But later on, I'm thinking it's not a very appropriate name, because I try to do here a very fine Indian cuisine." Joshi is mulling changing the name to simply Bombay, which is his home town in India, immortalized in lively photo murals on the wall of his restaurant.
Joshi opened Bombay to Kabul last year after noticing ethnic restaurants were doing a lot of business in the Bridgewater strip mall where his friend had an ice cream shop. Joshi bought the store and made a complete structural change, transforming the building into a cozy brasserie.
The chef, Amrik Singh, originally from Punjab, previously worked at Maharajah.
He focuses on what Joshi calls, "a healthy concept." Cholesterol-free oil is used in cooking, vegetables are steamed and chicken is served without skin.
The dishes are derived from various sections of India, because Bombay is a melting pot. There is a strong section of vegetarian choices, where my favorite was the Bombay alu ($9.95), chopped dry spiced potatoes that made a wonderful side dish and offered a departure from the rice that came with the entrees.
Not everything is described on the menu, but the staff is happy to fill in the details at length, or make recommendations, so you're not just guessing when you order.
The offerings include a lot of the dishes you'd expect to see, such as lamb vindalu ($13.95) and chicken curry ($11.95), but also some more unusual items not found at the average Indian restaurant.
The bhelpoori ($4.95), a nifty starter that I had for the first time, features crispy roast rice mixed with spicy chickpea noodles, onion, tomato, potatoes and coriander.
It makes a great spread on bread, with a little bit of crunch adding an especially happy note. In Bombay, Joshi said, "there is a bhelpoori vendor on every corner," serving what our waiter described as "Indian fast food" that's a long way from burgers and fries.
Tomato saar ($4.50) is a very light version of what we would call cream of tomato soup. It is just "flavored" with coconut milk for a weightless silky texture, and touched with cumin and curry leaves for a slightly exotic taste.
It's quite refreshing, a foolproof starter even for those who are tentative about trying Indian food. Order it with cheese and alu paratha ($3.25), bread that is like an Indian grilled cheese sandwich and a perfect partner for tomato soup.
Ragda patties ($4.95) are vegetable cutlets with spiced chick peas, a dish that is on the heavy side. The patties weren't as exciting as the batata wada ($4.95), fried potato dumplings, or chicken chat ($5.95), diced chicken with potato, cucumber, tomato, yogurt and chutney.
The tandoor chicken tikka ($11.95) was too dry. This clay oven chicken needs to be moist and not over-cooked, since it is served only with lemon and a covering of sliced onions, rather than a sauce.
If something rich is your craving, the mild lamb date korma ($14.95) satisfies with an abundance of a creamy almond sauce spiked with dates, nuts and raisins.
It's a real contrast to lamb tawa ($14.95), a spicy approach to the meat that leaves a tingle. Red chilis spark the chicken Kohlapuri ($12.95), mellowed by roasted coconut. There's also a vegetable version ($11.95).
If you're wondering what to drink with all of this, beer, white wine or champagne that you bring with you are always appropriate to deal with the spices. But it's also fun to order one of the "coolers" offered at Bombay to Kabul. The thick jaljeera ($2), flavored with cumin, is such an unexpected taste that it may take you a while to get used to it. If you don't want something quite so different, the mango lassi ($3.50) smoothie made with yogurt might be a better match for your sensibilities. There is also a sweet lassi ($2.95) and a salted lassi ($2.95), along with Shirley Temples ($2.50) for the kids. They have their own menu of child-friendly dishes, including chicken kebabs with rice ($6.95), a veggie wrap ($5.95) or if all else fails, chicken fingers ($4.95).
For dessert, we had faluda, a blend of rose essence, kulfi ice cream and noodles ($3.95) with Punjabi roots that made us feel as if we were sitting in a fragrant garden rather than eating in a strip mall. That impression was heightened by the shrikhand ($3.50), a western Indian favorite made with strained yogurt, cardamom and saffron. It had a taste and texture similar to Key lime pie and is usually served with poori, a deep-fried bread, but we preferred it straight.
These transporting desserts were the perfect way to end a nice departure from the ordinary at Bombay to Kabul, where you'll get good guidance on putting together a memorable meal.