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Archive for the ‘new york*: greenwich village’ Category

Sangam is the no-longer-recently-opened-and-therefore-not-really-hot-news biryani joint in Greenwich Village. Of course I meant to write about it months ago….

The samosa is average, oily, but the vegetable biryani, flecked with long green beans, carrots, and cubes of potato, tastes surprisingly light although it is wholesome, flavorful food. The plump grains of rice are robustly spiced and topped with browned, tempting slivers of fried onion; a cooling yogurt raita is a refreshing condiment.

Sangam’s biryani is nothing like the decadent biryanis I sampled in Bombay last month, stuffed with nuts, mushrooms and cream, but I think it works well here in New York. The eatery provides a fairly light, tasty meal that is an addition to the cheap-eats scene but an alternative to the falafel, dumpling, and noodle joints everywhere in the city. One could eat a Sangam biryani and be happily full but still escape the hard-hitting waves of somnolence guaranteed to come after a few bites of richer biryanis…or falafels.

Sangam’s co-owner, Aslam Parviz, introduced me to Rafat Ansari, the wife of his partner Ishrat Ansari, and the cook responsible for the home-ground spice mixture (masala) that so fragrantly seasons Sangam’s biryani. Rafat’s masala, says Aslam, is what distinguishes Sangam’s biryani from that which you find at other restaurants; most places use a prepackaged biryani mix called Shaan, which he says, wrinkling his nose, “I can smell from a mile away.”

Despite the restaurant’s bare-bones setting (just a few tables and chairs, really) Rafat and Aslam’s faith in their home-ground masala and their belief in food prepared with care sets Sangam apart from the other cheap-eats ethnic places in the city. After the biryani, I tried Sangam’s version of the trendy Kati Roll and loved what an unfashionably straightforward package it was: flaky, freshly grilled paratha wrapped around a tomato-potato-carrot based vegetable dish accented with tiny black mustard seeds. This was not a glitzy roll, decked out in extra oil or garlic or hot green peppers and chaat masala like Roomali’s delicious wraps. Nor was it a party roll to satiate late-night revelry-induced hunger. It’s a seedha-saadha, freshly prepared Indian wrap, tasty and satisfying, sensible and wholesome, in the way that home-cooked food tends to be. I loved it.

I read somewhere that Sangam’s prices have increased since I took a photograph of this menu. I think the vegetable biryani, which was $6, is now $7.50?

Sangam is on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal at 190 Bleecker Street. (212) 228-4648. They deliver, oh and their website provides the menu along with the new prices.

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I went to Indian Bread Co. last night for a second dinner. I was stuffed after my first dinner of dumplings but my appetite grew as I sat through this event. Then I remembered that Indian Bread Co. was in the area; I had recently reread the Nirali article on its owner, Nandini Mukherjee. Last night was my first time at this particular kati roll spot and to be honest, I really wasn’t expecting much. The hype over kati rolls seems to focus on Kati Roll, which I’m not a huge fan of anyway, because I think their rolls are unnecessarily oily.

I ordered a Paneer Tikka Masala roll and sat down to wait. Two of the other tables were occupied, but luckily the narrow shop wasn’t too busy. I asked for extra onions and green chilies on the side and when I picked up my roll, it came with a plate of amazingly stinky red onions (how I love love love red onions) and a cup of green, mint chutney. The chutney was obviously not the green chilies I had asked for, nor was it spicy, but it smelled like a minty forest and tasted great.

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I bit into the roll. I expected rubbery, dry paneer. But it was soft, almost creamy. It was fresh! And the masalaed, yogurt based marinade seeped its rich flavors into the small cubes of paneer. It was so unusual that I pulled out a piece, examined it, and passed it to my friend, who was eating an Achari Gosht Roll. He said, “Wow, I’ve never eaten such soft paneer before.” Well, I have! In Bombay, my masi makes paneer tikka at least twice while I’m there. Everytime, I blissfully stuff myself on marinated chunks of the freshest, milkiest paneer, tomatoes, capsicums, and onions (and then spend the subsequent hours with painful stomach aches but I don’t mind because it’s just so good). This paneer tikka reminded me of my masi’s. Other pros:

The paratha was not too dry nor too oily.
The chutney was evenly and liberally distributed throughout the roll.

A con:
The roll was tiny, about half the size of my usual Roomali rolls. The price is high for the size of these rolls but at least I know where to get my paneer fix now. Oh, and they also have stuffed parathas and “naaninis,” both of which don’t sound too appealing, but the “naanwich,” which I think is a pita-style sandwich made of naan and paneer instead of pita and falafel, sounds sort of intriguing.

And then we got chai, which was watery and totally blah. And it had cinnamon! I know Starbucks chai has cinnamon, but I’ve never been able to taste it our chai at home (which I know has no cinnamon) or other South Asian places in the city. For chai, I’d recommend going to Lahore Deli, on Crosby Street (so close to my job); their chai is fragrantly spicy and strongly comforting. Just the other morning, it was grey and drizzling, but the cup of chai I got from Lahore and sipped while walking to work reminded me why I like living in New York.

Indian Bread Company is at 194 Bleecker Street, between 6th Avenue and Macdougal, New York, NY. (212) 228-1909.
Paneer Tikka Masala Roll: $4.50
Chai: $1.50

Lahore Deli is at 132 Crosby Street, New York, NY. (212) 965-1777. Chai: $ 1.50

Related posts: Roomali is so much better than Kati Roll, 12 tastes of Bombay, Kati Roll, Brimful of Chat

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I realized that maybe nachos weren’t Pio Maya’s specialty and, my second time there, decided to try a spinach burrito.

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The burrito was definitely better than the nachos, but that’s not saying much, since the nachos were basically just cheese with one black bean on the top.
The menu says that the burrito is “stuffed with beans, rice, guacamole, cheese” and in my case, spinach. But in reality, the burrito is STUFFED with rice and spinach and a little bit of cheese, and the beans and guacamole are on the top. I really dislike rice in burritos (I don’t eat rice folded up inside rotis) so I asked for it on the side. The man behind the counter smiled and said, we don’t do that. So I shrugged, and said fine and ate rice filled burrito. It was not bad, for a rice-filled burrito. The rice was mushy.
This burrito did not come close to an Anna’s burrito- no nice chopped up grilled veggies (onions, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes), no nice melty cheese (instead this weird crumbly white cheese that is so popular in NY Mexican restaurants) and no generosity in the portions of black beans. Oh well. Apparently, Pio Maya’s beef burrito is super good.

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Ok, I think I ordered the wrong thing. I read rave reviews of Pio Maya on Yelp and then I googled it and read even more rave reviews: the thing is, I couldn’t believe that I was finally reading about a cheap Mexican place that people kept praising for its excellent, fresh food. And, it wasn’t in Brooklyn or way uptown somewhere- it was on 8th street, right in between Ali Babas and Union Square. So we went on Monday. While my friend did LOVE his steak burrito (he says its the best he’s had on the east coast, aside from Anna’s), I wasn’t too thrilled with my nachos.

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So cheesy!! And I love cheese! But seriously, this plate of nachos was about 5 chips and 5 pounds of cheese. And I got the “Super Nachos” because they came with black beans…but I only had a handful of black beans. The beans were good, the guac was really tasty, and the jalapenos were spicy. But the dish was completely disproportionate, with cheese comprising about 75% of it, and the chips, beans, guac, and jalapenos scrambling for some face time in the other 25%. But I really want to go again and order something different, because with so many people loving this place, I need to give it another chance…because I am desperate to find cheap and delicious Mexican in this city.

Pio Maya is a nice enough place to eat in, though. It’s not kind of gross and dingy, like the take-out Mexican places run by people who are not at all Mexican. It’s clean, and had about 10 tables, and nice big windows that let in the sunlight. If I like the next thing I eat from here, I’ll be happy, because then I will have finally reached a middle ground between the take-out Mexican made by Asians and the super over-priced trendy Mexican places I haven’t eaten at yet because I’m too scared the food won’t be excellent and then I’ll have wasted a bunch of money on trendiness.

Pio Maya is at 40 west 8th street. (near the west 4th street stop).

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My cousin Naishadh and I went to Kati Roll the other night for a quick dinner.

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(that is Waqas, not Naishadh)

Naishadh was in town from Philly and was craving Kati Roll- he had tried it during his last trip to New York- so he walked all the way from Chinatown to 46th street to find it (he didn’t know about the one in Greenwich Village).
I have been to Kati Roll once before (the one downtown) where I tried their Aachari Paneer roll. It was decent. The paneer, mashed with the onions and spices, tasted okay only- but I didn’t really taste the flavor of the orange Tandoori masala that made it look so appealing on the grill.

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The green chutney, which was a balanced mix of tangy and minty, made the roll taste better. The bites with chutney were great; the bites with just paneer were a little bland and paste-y (even with the extra onions and chilies) for my taste.

Of course, I compare this Kati Roll experience to the Frankies I’ve had in Bombay- both on the street at Breach Candy and at my dadi’s house.
Frankies are basically the same thing as Kati Roll- paneer, or another filling (mixed veggies, potato, etc) rolled up inside a roti and then pressed flat on a hot pan, until it is heated through and sticks together. Sort of the same idea as a burrito, but not as many fillings. Obviously, my dadi’s Frankie is amazing. She cooks the paneer with the masala, so the paneer is actually tasty, then adds a bunch of onions and chilies, and tops it all off with another cheese- like pepperjack or something, so it some cheese melts (paneer doesn’t) for a really fantastic eating experience.

At Kati Roll, they make the rolls differently. If you order a paneer roll, they take some chunks of paneer off of the skewer, mash it with the onions and chilies, put it in the middle of a roti, pour the chutney on it, and roll it up tightly.

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On Friday, I enjoyed my Aachari Paneer roll (from the mid-town joint) a little more, because it was less dry, but that was because the roti itself was super oily! It was definitely stretchy and more delicious, but extremely oily, which is just unnecessary. We also tried the Unda (egg) Roll and the Aloo Roll. The Unda Roll was too much- oily omlette inside oily roti = not enough contrast between the two components. The Aloo Roll, on the other hand, was really great- the Aloo was surprisingly not dry, but nice, moist, and spiced, and while the chutney was present, I wasn’t depending on it to make the roll taste better.
My other hesitation about eating here are the prices- while the Unda Roll is only $3.50, the Aachari Paneer Roll is $4.50!! That’s $2.50 more than a falafel- and falafel tastes better. But these chunks of meat and paneer sure do look good on that grill!

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Kati Roll is in Greenwich Village (at MacDougal St) and on 46th St, between Broadway and 6th avenue.

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My longtime favorite falafel place has been Mamouns, in NYC’s Greenwich Village. I’m probably not alone in this, because everyone knows about Mamouns and its two-dolla falafel sandwiches whose prices haven’t gone up in the past thirty years or something (maybe more, maybe less, I’m not sure). Anyway, I like Mamouns because 1. it’s cheap 2. the falafels are tasty and hot 3. it comes in a pita (this is a big deal- falafel in Baltimore came on french bread) 4. they put onions and enough tahini in the sandwich 5. it’s filling and 6. they always put a perfect amount of hot sauce- enough that it seeps through the whole sandwich, but doesn’t overpower it. It also has a really nice flavor that is complementary to the falafel instead of a strange addition.

BUT!

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I was on McDougal St. with Waqas once (where Mamouns is located) and he claimed that Ali Baba’s falafel was better than Mamouns! (Ali Baba’s is the falafel place right across the street from Mamouns- the one with the green sign that always looks tempting as you’re standing in line for Mamouns, because Mamouns always has a line, and Ali Baba’s is always empty). Naturally, I didn’t believe him, because I trust my food opinion more than I do his, but we decided to have a competition- I would buy Mamouns, and he would by Ali Baba’s, and we would each take bites of our own sandwich and then the other persons, for the most accurate and fresh opinion. (We also decided that if I did like Ali Baba’s falafel better than Mamouns, he would have to trade me his sandwich and eat the disgraced Mamouns one- a condition to which he initially agreed but then failed to follow…dum dum dum*). So we commenced the competition. I got my sandwich in two minutes (two dollars, two minutes) and waited for him outside. Then we each took our first bites. Mine was good. Waqas said his was “so good.” Then we traded sandwiches and took second bites. Then I took a third bite from his sandwich because it tasted really good, but I needed to make sure I was tasting the deliciousness, and not imagining it, from what Waq had said. Surprisingly enough, he was right- Ali Baba’s falafel was really amazing. Waqas kept saying “Ali Baba’s falafel is fresher than Mamouns,” when we were arguing about this earlier, and I kept dismissing him. But upon trying it, I think I agree with him: it was as tasty and with as many onions and as hot as Mamouns, but there was SOMETHIING different, and that, I think, was the freshness of it.

*Waqas later commented that since he won the competition, it proved that Pakis were better than Indians. (I think the name “Ali Baba” and the green sign helped in this association.)

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