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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Premium Sweets & Restaurant

The other place that the grocery guy pointed out to me was almost directly across the street from Mannan Supermarket, Premium Sweets & Restaurant. I can say with confidence right now that I'm going to be a regular here.

While I have yet to try any sweets here (desserts, with a few notable exceptions, are not generally my thing), the regular food offerings all look excellent: there is a long glass counter on the left as you enter with more than a dozen prepared rice dishes and curries, and on the right there is a shorter counter of tandoori and grilled kababs. And if their morog polao is any indication, they really are good - it is sensational.

The obvious drawback with this setup is that everything is made ahead of time, and when you order something, it gets dished up and microwaved. Rice dishes and curries like these don't suffer too much from this treatment, luckily. (Pre-cooked tandoori kababs, on the other hand...)  While Premium Sweet's morog polao is not as refined as Dhaka Garden's version, it is the style that I prefer - everything baked together, so that the all flavors intermingle. There's a delightful surprise in every bite - it may be a sultana or a crisped onion shred, or a dollop of spiced yogurt, adding richness to the well-seasoned rice. Ten bucks buys a generous portion with a whole chicken leg and a hard-boiled egg.

It tastes as if someone's Bangladeshi grandmother might have made it (my highest praise: I LOVE "grandmother" food). Not quite as recommendable is the "spring roll", filled with some deliciously-seasoned minced chicken (they are halal here, after all). If one could manage to get these fresh from the fryer, I'm sure they would be great. But it had been sitting around a while, and the wrapper was rather tough and leathery. Since it only cost one dollar, it wasn't a particularly vexing misfire.

They're open VERY late, maybe even 24 hours (I forgot to ask), and have other locations in Jamaica (Queens) and Parkchester (Bronx).

Premium Sweets & Restaurant
37-14 73rd St., Jackson Heights 11372

(E, F, M, R, or 7 train to 74th St.-Broadway/Roosevelt Ave.-Jackson Heights, walk a block northwest on Broadway, then right on 73rd St.)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Dhaka Garden

Last weekend, I attended a concert at Alice Tully Hall in which two good friends were singing: Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs and Margaret Lattimore, both marvelous singers (go hear them if you can… better yet, come to Mexico City in late June and hang out with us as we all prepare and perform Richard Strauss's opera Salome). As luck would have it, my seat was next to that of an old friend and colleague, the artist manager Alex Fletcher, who very gently tendered a plea for a new blog post. I admit it has been far too long, and fortunately, inspiration presented itself just a few days later.

During a late-night trip to Mannan Halal Grocery, I was chatting with the lovely Bangladeshi fellow ringing up my purchases and happened to mention how much I liked the dish morog polao. He brightened up, ushered me to the door, and pointed down the street to not one, but two places he thought served a good morog polao. He was absolutely right. This evening I brought both my camera and my friend Alex (a mathematics professor, not the artist manager) to Dhaka Garden, where we enjoyed some exceptionally good food.

I had heard that their mughlai paratha was also good, so we started with an order of that. It is easily the best mughlai paratha I have ever tasted – fried with lightest of hands, and filled with subtly-seasoned minced chicken (rather than the usual beef one gets in Indian restaurants) and egg. Well worth the six bucks, and easily sharable by two or three people.

Also reputed to be good was kacchi biryani, so order it we did. It was excellent. The menu says it is made with "premium baby goat", baby goat being a relative term. In Spain, cabrito asado (roast kid goat) is generally no more than 45 days old. This goat was significantly more elderly than that, but had good flavor and was actually tender, in contrast to most of the goat one gets in Indo-Paki restaurants around town. The rice was delicious with complex, fresh flavors.

With biryani and polao dishes, Dhaka Garden offers a small dish of chicken, beef or goat curry for an additional $4.95. How can one pass that up? On our waiter’s recommendation, we got beef. The gravy was rich and complex, concentrated from long simmering until almost reminiscent of Indonesian rending. A recommendation we’re glad we heeded.

The impetus for the visit, morog polao, was indeed excellent. There are several styles of morog polao, apparently, and while theirs is not the style I prefer (I like everything baked together), the quality was so high that it made no difference. My friend Alex, who grew up in India, was particularly impressed by this dish (in fact, he was impressed in general, saying, “This takes me back to my teen years... I haven’t had food like this since I was in India!”). He repeatedly remarked on how fresh the chicken tasted, and indeed the menu boasts "live chicken": you get one half chicken – and a hard-boiled egg – that has been simmered in a seasoned yogurt and cream sauce, with a plate of very subtly-seasoned rice, rich with sultanas, fried onion shreds, and a few saffron threads, served alongside.

This feast set us back about twenty bucks apiece. They also offer a good selection of snacks/appetizers (including some Indian-Chinese items), tandoori kababs, curries (their fish curry is reputed to be excellent), breads, and breakfast items.  Open 9 a.m. - 11 p.m. daily.

(A postscript:  if any Bengali speakers happen to read this and would be willing to assist in the translation of some ingredients and amounts from a cooking video in Bangla, I would be most grateful. E-mail me at the address listed near the top of the page.)

Dhaka Garden
72-23 37th Ave., Jackson Heights 11372

(E, F, M, R, or 7 train to 74th St.-Broadway/Roosevelt Ave.-Jackson Heights, walk two blocks north on 74th St., then left on 37th Ave.)