Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Himalaya or Bust

Published by Commandrea (Andrea Afra) at 9:11 PM

My family and I frequent the Hillcroft restaurant strip at least weekly and were on our way to London Sizzler, a modern Indian restaurant we've been to a couple of times and really enjoyed. It is in a shopping center at the northwest corner of 59 and Hillcroft and is host to a few restaurants and stores including a new spice shop we dropped into first. Chandrika Masala is family owned and has rows upon rows of preblended curries, whole and ground spices, flours, lentils, and many things I've never seen or heard of before. The owner was kind enough to walk me through the store and explain the uses for some of the items, like a merchant tour guide. He boasted that the curries are all blended freshly in their warehouse on Murphy Rd. Their rice is cleaned and hand packed with 'no powder to be found'. The store was packed with soap nuts and jaggery, dried pomegranate seeds, chutneys and myriad other ingredients to be explored. We bought a bag of chicken masala and fish masala with a promise to return.

Instead of heading back over to London Sizzler, we poked out heads into Himalaya, a North Indian-Pakistani restaurant a couple of doors down. We like what we saw and opted for a table there. The menu was written on three large dry-erase boards that hung on the walls, along with a large painting of a Mexican market and a map of Karachi. One board was for the meat dishes and desserts, one for the daily specials and the other was soley for vegetarian meals.

Five other tables were filled with families of all different cultures and we tried to sneak a look at their plates on the way to our table. The owner, a man named Kaiser, came over for our order and we accepted all of his suggestions as he took charge. The more mild chicken-boti for the boys, a fish curry for my husband, and for me the hara tikka masala, a chicken and green curry dish.We also ordered a side of daal, and two pieces of naan.

And as we were super hungry my husband asked about an appetizer but the owner shook his head.

"You won't need it."
We begged with famished eyes and he said, "Okay, I will send you something."
A few minutes later, two large vegetable samosas were sent out and we cracked them open and split them up between the four of us. They were gone before we got them.

While waiting for our food, I overheard a conversation from a table of about ten people sitting near us.
A woman was asking another older woman, "What do you call this, Mom?"
Near the Indian mother-in-law was another older woman who laughed and said, "We call it pan!"

A Chinese couple with two daughters walked in and sat down to eat, and an Indian man with his Caucasian wife sat behind us. The atmosphere was one of a family diner with a bustle of activity from the customers, the kitchen with it's order-up bell, two waiters running food and refilling waters to cool the happily burning tongues, and the owner keeping reign over the show.

Soon our food arrived- first the chicken boti and a big bowl of rice, then the bread and the fish and the masala and the daal. It was all so good with simple ingredients and complex flavors.

The chicken boti was juicy and mild enough for our four and eleven year old boys, but still jaunty with just a kick of spice.

The fish curry was awesome- two moist fillets of snapper (though we joked it was probably tilapia, the way every 'white' fish is in Houston, smothered in a curry of roasted tomatoes, sauteed onions and fresh chopped coriander.

My hara tikka masala was a creamy but not too rich dish with onions, mint and coriander leaves, green chilies, garlic, tomatoes and yogurt to name a few of the ingredients. It's one of those dishes that you keep eating just one more bite of until you regret it.

And the daal! How could something so homely be so good? Piping hot, creamy and rife with small chunks of garlic, which I love, and ginger, which I would normally avoid but didn't mind here. Toasted cumin seeds, fried onions and fresh coriander topped it off. It is by far my favorite daal in town.

The naan was large and soft and served without the unhealthy shmear of delicious ghee that I love and my husband avoids, but I didn't miss it one bit.

We did wind up with leftovers which I took care of last night and were just as good as the previous day.

Go to Himalaya- it's right off the freeway. Five minutes from the Galleria on 59 and it is well worth the 'trip'. Don't give me the "I don't leave the Loop line"- it's pathetic how much those chumps miss out on. Most of the good stuff, the really down-home-from-somewhere-far-away one star cuisine that trumps any Michelin ranked restaurant any day of the week, is outside the loop. The rest are just diluted versions to fit the Great White Palate.

6652 Southwest Fwy
Houston, TX 77074-2210
(713) 532-2837


Marc Mansueto said...

Sammie and I are going right now!

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