New York Pizza [and Grilled Kabob!]

Situated on what once was a not-great corner of Florida Ave. and North Capitol, New York Pizza looks like a relic from the 80’s. I confess that I didn’t go inside since I figured I could get my food faster if they brought it to me at my house (or I’m just lazy). It was only recently that I noticed a sign advertising Indian and Pakistani food. This is DC–where the Chinese restaurants sell burgers and the pizza places sell kabobs. They even rebranded themselves!

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Their pizza has, to put it lightly, middling reviews, plus Bacio is three blocks away, so I never even thought to come here. You can’t tempt me with greaseball pizza, nor with their questionably named NY Fish. No, only the siren song of lamb tikka could pull me in.

 

Because their website’s menu is different from their Grubhub menu, I called. I’m glad I did. Besides the two curry dishes, the veggie samosas grabbed my attention. “Sorry ma’am, we’re all out.” Falafel? “We’re out of that too.” That’s okay. I stuck with the two entrees, and my bathroom scale would ultimately thank me.

The car pulled up not 30 minutes later carrying our own little slice of heaven.

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Lamb tikka. Great lamb flavor, pleasant spice, complimentary side salad, enough rice to make a dent in world hunger? Check, check, check, and check. The meat was slightly tough, but not overly chewy or fatty.

mvimg_20180805_182224.jpgThe chicken curry was less meat than it looked like due to the abundance of bones. On the other hand, the meat dropped off said bones with no effort and the sauce was rich while still packing a nice heat.

The sides that came with our meals were spinach and potatoes, and curry chickpeas. I enjoyed the spinach but it was more bitter and liquefied than your typical Indian palak, and the chickpeas were pleasantly earthy. They included an extra little container of rice, because I guess we didn’t have quite enough or something. And the bread…sweet baby Jesus. I have never had naan like this from anywhere. It was crustier and thickener than the typical naan, but also more flavorful, like a cross between naan and pizza dough. Come to think of it, it may have actually been the exact same thing as their pizza crust. Yeah…I’m pretty sure it was. Don’t care, it all sops up the sauce the same way. [Note: There were actually TWO huge pieces of pizza naan included] [Confession: I had to throw it in the trash can to stop myself from continuing to steal bites of it after dinner].

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Overall, this meal completely upended all my prejudices about New York Pizza. I feel like this place is that flamboyant kid in high school who joins the football team just to prove how not-gay he is when what he really wants to do is dance. Come out of the pizza-closet, guys! We see you in there and we love you for who you are! It’s way better than who you’re pretending to be!

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Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Prepare to be fairly impressed, and prepare for leftovers. PS I was not even a little sad about not having samosas or falafel because this was still way too much food.

Food Corner

Like any red-blooded American, I get all my best restaurant recommendations from Uber drivers. On this occasion, our driver overheard me talking to my husband about a friend taking a Pashto language class and ended up telling us his life story of coming to this country from Afghanistan at 20 years old. Naturally, my next question was: “What’s the best place to get Afghan food in DC?” Enter Food Corner…

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This unassuming carry-out near Howard kind of…looks like a place you shouldn’t eat. Unappetizing amateur photos of their food adorn the walls. There are straw wrappers strewn around the floor. The cashier stirred up a big dish of oily spinach sitting under a heat lamp. We were the only ones in the restaurant. It is, in a word, grody. I probably would have high-tailed it out of there were it not for that Uber driver.

I ordered the chicken breast kabob, my husband got the beef/seekh combo, and on a whim I ordered a plate of samosas. It was a test. I can’t lie; I was pretty nervous. Food Corner pretty much defines “hole in the wall.” There were probably literal holes in the walls. Seriously, they have put zero effort into general aesthetic upkeep.  However, the bathroom was equipped with a makeshift bidet (aka a pitcher of water), and that’s when I knew this place was legit.

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We got our samosas shortly after my bathroom jaunt and that’s when I discovered that it wasn’t just the bathroom that knew what was up. The samosas were crispy on the outside with fluffy potatoes inside, and had the spices exactly right, including the whole fennel seed. They were served with a thin raita.

When the cashier called me up to pick up the kabobs, he asked which side I’d like: spinach or chickpeas. I asked for half-and-half (gotta try ’em all!) and the guy heaped both sides on. Also, here’s my chicken platter and have you actually ever seen such an absurd amount of naan? I couldn’t even fit the whole thing in my picture (and I ate about a fourth of it).

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The chicken had a delicious tandoori spice and was cooked perfectly, with a nice char-grilled crust on the outside. The chickpeas were soupy and fragrant, but just a little bland. The spinach, on the other hand, was both creamy and bitter, and I had trouble putting it down, even as my stomach threatened to explode. Even the naan was super airy and soft.

My husband’s beef had the same delicious ratio of crispy exterior to tender, meaty interior, and had a strong steak flavor and no extraneous fatty or chewy bites. The seekh was very herbal and fragrant, with little bits of veggies and heaps of turmeric mixed in with the ground chicken.

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We basically had to roll home because we were so full. I keep telling myself that I’ll work it all off during my triathlon tomorrow, but we all know that’s a lie.

Price: $15 per person MAXIMUM.

Bottom line: Trust your Uber driver when it comes to international food and don’t be scared away by the fluorescent lighting and surly cashiers; Food Corner is the king of cheap, messy, no frills Pakistani food.

Red Toque Kabob

After a busy day of doing nothing, it was time to do more nothing, aka eating curry in my underwear with a bottle of wine while watching basketball. Side note: if I ever write my memoir, I’m going to title it Eating Curry in my Underwear with a Bottle of Wine While Watching Basketball. This is a recurrent theme in my life.

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Red Toque Kabob has gone through several incarnations in the past few years, including the latest one which 100% looks like a money laundering operation. There isn’t even a bathroom for customers (that I could see). Hell, there wasn’t even a counter for ordering, just some dude in a shadowy corner of the restaurant with an iPad.

I had basically settled on chicken curry earlier this morning (I like to do my research), but my husband hadn’t yet decided. To my shock and dismay, he actually passed up the chicken tikka masala in favor of chicken vindaloo, for which he did not even read the description. This became evident later. We also got a side of spinach and an order of beef samosas. Although he’s not good at reading menu descriptions, my husband did have enough forethought to ask for his dish extra-spicy, which gave me the perfect segue to do so as well.

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I’ll start with the samosa. It was flaky, it was full, it was beefy. “I wish we’d gotten the veggie samosa,” said my husband. But that’s unfair. We ordered beef, we got beef. It was very flavorful. It came with a raita dip that was very loose. I like my raita a little thicker. Moving on…

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If you can tell the difference between the chicken vindaloo (top left) and the chicken curry (top right), then my hat’s off to you. In fact, it took several side-by-side tastings for us to positively identify these as different (hint:  I read the menu and remembered that the vindaloo contains potato). Fortunately for them, they were both more than adequately spicy. I also appreciate the addition of chickpeas to my rice, which makes me feel like I’m not paying $13 for 10 cents worth of rice. But for reals, both of these curries were great. The chicken was tender and plentiful, the sauce was flavorful and spicy. The vindaloo was slightly tangier, the curry was slightly richer? Maybe? If you’re trying to choose between one of these two, just flip a coin.

The spinach was also great. I thought it would have paneer in it, but it was just straight-up spinach with garlic and onions. It was a huge portion too, and it had the added benefit of making me feel healthy while I ate this.

Price: $17 per person.

Bottom line: Yeah, you could probably find better Indian/kabobs/curry/whatever somewhere in DC but if you can just walk to Red Toque and it’s Final Four weekend (and you may or may not have a cheap bottle of malbec). don’t bother.

Masala Story

As I’ve previously opined, Brookand is actually becoming a bit of a pocket for new and interesting restaurants. Bonus: it’s a perfect walk from my home, not so long that it’s exhausting, but juuuuuuust long enough that I feel okay about stuffing my face with Indian food. Bonus 2: I can stop at Right Proper for a few rounds afterward and still stumble my way home. Also, DC is just sorely lacking in Indian restaurants (unless you’ve got ample time to wait for reservations and the deep pockets necessary for Rasika). So even though it was a nasty, rainy night, I insisted on walking to the newly-opened Masala Story, the sister restaurant to Noma’s Indigo.

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Their menu and method of service is very similar to Indigo’s. They feature favorite staples and northern Indian food, including a wheat-based bread that is more lavash than naan. You order at the counter but they also have a full-service bar with some decent craft beer options and a selection of lower-shelf wines. Unlike Indigo, the interior of the restaurant has ample seating, and it’s adorable! The menu boasts “we can meet your spice level.” I read this as a challenge.

The prices look a little high at first. I feel like a restaurant that gives you a plastic number to put on your table and doesn’t have free refills on water shouldn’t have entrees priced over $10. What am I even paying for if I have to bus my own table? But on account of not wanting to overeat, as well as wanting to try a wide variety of their multitudinous offerings, my husband and I cracked the code to ordering. Enter: the thaali, a TV-dinner style tray packed with the foods of your choosing. Masala Story offers two: a vegetarian one with five vegetables, or a non-vegetarian one with two meat dishes and three vegetables. This, plus an appetizer, was enough food for two people, and even after my husband tacked on his beloved mango lassi, the bill was still extremely reasonable. In my excitement to order so many delicious things, I totally forgot about the spiciness challenge they had offered me, and I didn’t specify a spice level. I thought about going back to amend it afterward, but decided that what was done was done.

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From top left, clockwise: dal tadka, kadi pakora, tindura (which I ordered blindly, knowing only that it’s a house specialty), raita, lamb curry, rice (and aforementioned bread), and chicken tikka masala (which my husband couldn’t possibly live without). Low-maintenance presentation aside, my biggest complaint is with the sheer abundance of rice. Why is the largest slot on this TV dinner tray filled with rice? It feels cheap, like ordering a bowl of regular breakfast cereal at a restaurant. I didn’t pay $20 for a bunch of stupid rice. On the other hand, the tikka masala was soooo creamy, the dal was soupy and fragrant, and the mystery tindura turned out to be delicious sliced green beans in a semi-spicy tomato-based stew. The lamb curry was absolutely delectable, the meat so flaky and moist, an honor also held by the chicken. Nothing was actually spicy save for the garnish of pickled eggplant they serve on the side. If you need to specify a lower level of spice than their default, you just don’t deserve to eat here.

Our appetizer arrived after the main meal. We had ordered the amritsari fish. It was larger than any individual thing on our other tray, and probably larger than half the things on the tray combined. The fish pieces were hot out of the fryer, crispy, and flaky on the inside, although the fry batter wasn’t particularly flavorful. They were served with the mint and tamarind chutneys, but I preferred to dunk the nuggets in the lamb curry sauce, the dal, and the yogurt sauce that came with the pakora.

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Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Fine dining it is not, and for a spicy dreamland it was rather lacking, but if you want a tasty ethnic meal close to home and for a semi-reasonable price, or if you just really like rice, look no further than Masala Story.

London Curry House

What’s better than Indian food on a rainy winter night? Maybe soup? Maybe. But a good curry could still hit the spot. And, like many of my recent dining decisions, London Curry House in Alexandria existed in exactly the right place in roughly the period of time in which I needed it. Close enough, at least. I could also order online for pick-up. It’s an introvert’s dream!

Something I appreciate about London Curry House: they let me know right on the menu which things are “must try!” Thanks, London Curry House! Another thing I love about them: they had so many good looking things that they actually convinced my husband to move away from his beloved chicken tikka masala and try something new. I really did marry an adventurous eater, but the man knows what he likes. He ordered the madras curry with chicken (I mean, we can’t get too crazy now) and I got the “must try!” goat nehari. Then, feeling all the more adventurous, I added an order of shahi naan, stuffed with coconut and nuts.

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Not pictured: enough rice to feed an Indian village for a week.

Forgive the horribly inaccurate picture. This was actually an enormous amount of food. The madras curry (bottom right) was different but not particularly flavorful, and had kind of a gritty texture from the coconut. It was creamy and the chicken was good, but sparse. I think my husband will be going back to tikka masala next time. The goat nehari (bottom left) had a spicy, oniony sauce that was heaven in a bowl…but the goat was overwhelmingly fatty and chewy, almost all of it still stuck to small pieces of bone, and that made this dish partially inedible. When goat is cooked well, it should literally fall off the bone. If I can cook goat like this, so can every restaurant. Also, it’s just so hard to eat a saucy dish that still has chunks of bone in it. How do people live like this? I ended up eating mostly sauce and slivers of onion.

The naan was really tasty, though. I mean, it’s bread. Stuffed with dried coconut. There’s no losing here. It was messy to eat because all the dried coconut just kind of poured out of the torn bread, but it was still slightly dessert-y and yum.

Price: $20 per person.

Bottom line: I was pretty unsatisfied with everything we got to some degree, and my complaints were all over the map. Except the naan; that was pretty good. DC has kind of a dearth of good Indian food but I’m pretty sure I could find something better than this.

City Kabob and Curry House

Although I usually spend my Sunday nights out and about–ok, fine, at Boundary Stone–there comes a time in all of our lives when we just have to spend the evening on the couch in our jammies. This was not the plan I had envisioned for my night tonight but whatever, I ain’t mad.

After a protracted debate about the type of cuisine we were comfortable ordering and perusing the limited options available from UberEats, we settled on kabobs, and City Kabob and Curry House was our place. Neither my husband nor I were particularly hungry, so ordering one entree and an appetizer to split seemed like the correct amount of food, right?

Wrong.

We ordered the chicken breast kabobs and samosa chaat. Here is the monstrosity of Foodzilla that showed up at my home 40 minutes later, chauffered by–no joke–a Lincoln Towncar:

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Other than sheer volume, however, I have few complaints. The naan was warm and fluffy. The chickpeas at the top of the photo were interesting; they were overwhelmingly cumin-y and served in a sauce that was pretty oily, but still delicious (or perhaps it was delicious entirely because of these things). The chicken on the right was well-seasoned, slightly smoky, slightly spicy, and only slightly dry. It definitely could have used some raita or chutney. Altneratively, I could have just thrown some plain yogurt from my fridge on top of it, but that would have required actually getting off my ass and what am I, a magician?

The star of this show was the samosa chaat in the middle of the photo. It was piled with so many toppings that I didn’t even ever see the actual samosa. I assume it was buried under there somewhere. The pastry skin was a little soggy from all that sauce but there is no such thing as a bad samosa, and I think this may have been an effect of the delivery. Where the chicken was lacking in delicious liquid toppings, the chaat shone. Chickpeas, tamarind chutney, raita, cucumbers…this thing had it all. It was smoky, it was sweet, it was savory, it was spicy.

This was $18 well spent.

Price: $10 per person

Bottom line: City Kabob makes it way too easy and cheap to be lazy, and UberEats totally classed it up with that Lincoln.

Woodlands

Is it just me or is it hard to find good Indian food in DC proper? I’ve been searching for it basically my entire adult life. Rasika is obviously amazing, but if you don’t want to schlep across town and cough up $100, your options are rather limited.

Knowing I’d be in Maryland, I suggested Indian for lunch with a friend, and she was eager to try it. I chose Woodlands for the low price point, not realizing it would be Sunday buffet, although in retrospect, duh it was Sunday buffet. It’s actually surprising that it exists here, nestled amongst the pupuserias and the Latino markets and the pollo a la brasa and more pupuserias.

Woodlands bills itself as South Indian, which I always knew abstractly was different than North Indian cuisine, but I was pleasantly surprised by how many of the buffet offerings were unrecognizable to me. No boring-ass naan here; if Woodlands is any indication, the specialty of Southern India is fried fried fried things. Fried bread, fried potatoes, fried lentils, fried pancakes, fried dhosa. I ain’t mad. There were so many things and there is no way I would ever get their names right, but I’ll try to describe the dishes.

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My first plate included yellow dal on the left, the adjoining red cauliflower curry, the veggie pancake, the lentil donut, the yellow pumpkin curry, the cold chickpeas, and the iceberg salad that was a waste of plate space and I’m not sure why I believed that getting one spoonful of salad would negate all the fried things on my plate. The winners on this plate were definitely the red cauliflower, which was well sauced and fragrant, the pumpkin curry that was richly coconutty and full of soft-cooked pumpkin, and the lentil donut which was surprisingly savory and flavorful. The dal was too thin and not the best ever so I didn’t get any on the next go-around.

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Second plate: as you can see, a re-upping of lentil donut, pumpkin curry, red cauliflower, and saag paneer, which was good but standard, plus the two desserts: the sweet kheer-like pudding made with noodles instead of rice which had the tinge of cardamom but the overwhelming sweetness of condensed milk, plus the gulab jamoon which was exactly the fried ball of sweet cheese I needed to close out this meal.

My wonderful dining partner was a friend who happens to be an immigrant from El Salvador. For her first experience with Indian food, this was a good pick. “I’m in love with the pumpkin,” she said repeatedly. I agree, it was wonderful.

Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Woodlands is a great place to try something new even if you are already well-acquainted with Indian food. And if you want to convert someone else, it’s all the better.