Arts and Entertainment
by dan leone
A passage to Indian
IT WAS A good time to eat Indian food. I was hungry, for example. I was starting to feel the first feeling of sickness in the back of my throat which is always a good time to tickle it with spiciness. Crawdad de la Cooter, who turns into Psychocrustacean when she eats Indian food, was not with me, so it was a good time to eat Indian food.
I was in the Tenderloin, thinking: Shalimar. Shalimar being a neighborhood Indian-Pakistani food joint I haven't been to for five, six, seven years, but I liked it so much last time I went, back in 1995, '96, or '97, that I still recommend it to people when they ask me about Indian food. Now that I was in position to pack down some Pakistani myself, I reckoned I'd recommend it to me, too. You know, it's never a bad idea for us respected restaurant writers to keep up with our favorite places, so we know to stop recommending them in case they turn into shitholes. Of course when you consider the flip side of that responsibility, which is to check back in with places we hate, in case they get good, and then add on top of it all the incessant necessity for eating at places we've never eaten at before, what you have is a weight problem.
Lucky for me, I'm not you. Therefore, after I'd satisfied myself (by way of basmati rice and tandoori chicken) that Shalimar was not a shithole, then turned the corner from Jones onto O'Farrell and immediately noticed (with my nose) another Indian-Pakistani dive called Naan 'N' Curry, I didn't have to even hesitate before stepping inside and finding out (by way of nan and curry, in deference to the name of the place) that it's not a shithole either.
This is a review of Naan 'N' Curry (I already wrote about Shalimar), so I'm not going to draw any comparisons, but what? You want a comparison? OK, quickly then: Pricewise, they're pretty much identical, which is to say, in a word (repeated three times), cheap, cheap, cheap. Tastewise, well, Shalimar is maybe one notch better, but Naan 'N' Curry has more stuff on the menu and definitely wins for atmosphere.
It's got cushier chairs. But it's not just that. It's goofy, gold-textured walls with painted-on columns and archways and pictures of general loveliness, with those voluptuous droop-cloth ceiling cloths, and then the floor's all cracked, with holes and everything. No music, but no matter, because the counterladyperson sings while she's whipping together your order, and then the counterdudeperson joins in on the choruses. You have to get your own napkin and silverware and water, by the way, but that's cool 'cause they have whole carafes of it in the cooler, and you're going to need whole carafes of water to deal with the heat.
I got a lamb curry cooked with okra ($5.99), which they call bhindi ghost, but might be bhindi gosht, technically speaking, but I'm in favor of the misspelling. Not for any particular reason; I just happen to feel that ghost is something I can sink my teeth into, whereas gosht who knows what gosht is?
In any case, the curry was good and fiery and full of tender chunks of meat and okra and onions and tomato and whatever else the hell was in there. The nan ($1), which is that flat Frisbee bread cooked with butter in a clay oven, is, in addition to delicious, entirely necessary to sop up the spicy stew. Good thing it was the biggest piece of nan I think I've ever seen.
Plus I'd gotten an order of seekh kabaab ($1.99), which is marinated ground beef spiced up like sausage sort of and then cooked on a skewer in a clay oven. Served with raw onions and tomato slices, this will want to be eaten with nan, too, like a gyro. And you'll also want to plaster it with that light green stuff in the squirt bottle. I can never remember what it is, but I think it has to do with yogurt and mint and/or cilantro. In fact, since it's as good as it sounds, if not 10 times better, you might want to reserve a section of your nan just for pouring this mixture onto.
In fact, you may want to just order another round of nan.
Didn't try any of the stuffed nans (stuffed with ground beef, potatoes, onions, or garlic). Did try the mango lassi ($2), which is some sort of a yogurted mango drink. Didn't like it.
They also have chicken curries, seafood curries, vegetable curries,
biryani, which is your basic meat and rice mix, only spiced to kingdom
come, and, for dessert (spelled "desert"): gulab jamun, or
"caramelized milk balls." Caramelized milk balls ... Didn't
try the gulab jamun.