Sunday, July 8, 2012

Kebab Grill (Danbury, CT)

Samosa Chaat

Danbury, it seems, is a land of strip malls. This is not an aspersion. I love strip malls. Every time I visit my in-laws in New Jersey, I experience paroxysms of delight at the sight of a Ski Barn, Baby Depot, Pet Smart, Office Depot, A&P, liquor store and dollar store, all within steps of one another. Such efficiency! Such unparalleled convenience! And in Danbury's strip malls... such deliciousness, too!

I've already raved to many people about one such strip mall find, Pho Vietnam, which we stumbled upon after a long, arduous hike in Bear Mountain Reservation and have been back to about twenty times already in the space of a few months. On a recent evening, after several equally arduous hours at the DMV, we followed a Chowhound lead to another strip mall restaurant, Kebab Grill. It's located in the White Street Plaza, in the same complex as a nice-looking Brazilian Bakery (Pão Gostoso Bakery and Pastries), a travel agency and some sort of check cashing business.

At a place called "Kebab Grill", it seems unwise not to order the eponymous item. There are only a few kebabs listed on the takeout menu: chicken sheesh kebabs, lamb kebabs, chapli kebabs and shami kebabs. (The latter two are listed under the sandwich section, served as "burgers".) The night we went, the restaurant was out of lamb kebabs, so we opted for the chicken sheesh kebabs, instead. These were excellent, with nicely spiced, moist meat that was neither overly firm nor overly loose. The seasonings leaned sweet and included cloves and allspice, I think. We were hungry and I unfortunately devoured mine before I could really analyze the spicing very closely.

Chicken Sheesh Kebab

The garlic naan was also very good and came to us freshly made, with crispy edges pleasantly charred in parts, a light sheen of oil and the alluring fragrance of freshly toasted garlic. 

Garlic Naan

It might be unfair to ask a place that specializes in kebabs to also make chaats well, but I was in the mood, so maybe against my better judgment, I ordered the samosa chaat and pani puri. 

Chaats are a bit of an art form. At their best, most are about the harmonious coexistence of crisp, crunchy and soft elements, of sweet, salty, sour and bitter elements, all of which have a great big Bollywood danceoff in your mouth. They're a great analogy for India, really. They're also meant to be eaten immediately after they are mixed. We ordered ours for takeout since the Little One and Medium-sized One were both in the car. But we did tear into the chaats as soon as we got them, within minutes after they came out of the kitchen. 

The pani puri came with slightly rancid, stale puri. Probably most restaurants in the U.S., even places that specialize in chaats, buy pre-made puris since they're a bit of a pain in the ars to make. But a good chaat wallah (or a mummy who loves you... but not enough to make you fresh puri ;) will toast pre-made packaged ones to restore them to crispness before serving if they're stale. Serving stale puri is a little like serving rubbery nori at a sushi restaurant. A good place won't do it. Also, Kebab Grill's pani (tamarind water), made with a nice balance of sweet and sour, was unfortunately far too salty. To achieve the right balance of filling -- in this case potatoes and chickpeas -- and pani, you couldn't use enough liquid to achieve that wonderful explosion in your mouth that epitomizes this chaat. As a matter of personal preference, I also missed the nice, bright, vegetal note that fresh coriander leaves add, either as a garnish, as an ingredient in the pani, or as part of a green chutney that many versions have. This is a stylistic variation, though, and I'm sure there are some people who like this kind of preparation better. 

Pani Puri

The samosa chaat (pictured at the top of this post) was better, though it was overly moist, without much of a showing from the headline ingredient, samosa. Perhaps we caught them on an off night when they were running low, but we detected only a few crumbs of at the bottom of the (very generously filled) takeout container. Instead of cut-up pieces of samosas, there were cubes of potato in a large pool of well made kala channa (black chickpea curry), diced onion and tomato, green chutney and thinned yogurt. I missed the sev often used to garnish this dish: it could really have used the crunch.

Chaats are specialty items, though, and despite their evident lack of strength on that front (based on two chaats ordered on one night; obviously, it's a limited sample), Kebab Grill seems to do a good job with other dishes. An order of aloo gobi muttar was a good balance of tender, well cooked potato, cauliflower, tomato and peas, sweet with caramelized onions. It was quite a lot more oily than most homemade versions, but deliciously so.

Aloo Gobi Muttar

All in all, this was a nice meal. I probably won't try the chaats again, personally, since we can pretty easily cobble together better versions at home. But those kebabs almost made spending hours at the Danbury DMV worth it. Almost.

35 White Street (inside White Street Plaza)
Danbury, CT 06811
(203) 205-2222

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