Baba Ka Dhaba – Calgary, AB
Baba Ka Dhaba
3504 17 Avenue SE
(403) 207 5552
As i discovered on my recent trip, there is power in low expectations. When you have no preconceived notions on how something will be, generally speaking, you end up pleasantly surprised. With high expecations? Well, i have to admit, my most disappointing dining experiences over the past year have either been at highly regarded restaurants, or at new local eateries that had generated a lot of buzz. Only the best made an impression. Most were quite disappointing. This may not be completely fair, but for me, the higher the expectations, the less likely I am to like the place. Sad, but true. At Baba Ka Dhaba, there were no expectations at all.
Baba Ka Dhaba is a small hole in the wall East Indian eatery in Forest Lawn, on the north side of 17th ave SE. Even knowing where it is, it is quite easy to drive by and miss it. I did several times! Baba Ka Dhaba has fairly limited seating, with 3 tables, and likely seats for 12-16 people, depending on how friendly you get. The evening i was there, the majority of the orders were take out.
When you first walk in, there is nothing really prominent. It’s small. A bit shabby, and tiled in white. Tables are in varying degrees of disarray – we ended up bussing our own tables to get a place to sit. If you were measuring atmosphere on a scale from 1-10, it’d be a 0. That’s not a good thing.
There is a small cut out in the hastily erected plywood wall where someone takes orders. Above the cutout is the menu – what they serve is limited on each given day, an approach I have been a big fan of lately. I find the limited menu ensures better quality control. Beats trying to be all things to all people. However, be sure you are looking at the correct day – i was salivating over certain dishes that were available on a different day before i realized my mistake. Each given day has dishes from a variety of styles. Some curries, some dishes from the tandoor, some appetizers.
Service, from a objective persepctive, was actually fairly horrific. It took them 10 minutes to even notice we were at the window to take our order. One guy jumped the queue and placed his take out order ahead of us. And then it took them so long to get us our food, that the two gentleman we were sharing our table with, definite regulars and personally knew the owners, suggested we go back and ask about our food, because they were certain they had “forgotten our order”. If i had any expectations at all, or if my dining companion wasnt as easy going and affable, im sure i would’ve felt a lot more slighted. Instead, it was just another part of the experience.
We went for a diversity of dishes to get a good sampling. We each started with the samosas. Very large and fried to a golden brown, these were served warm. Overall, they were fantastic. The skins werent too thick, giving a nice crunchy bite, and the filling was loaded with flavour, yet not overly dry. Sauce and raita accompainiments were a nice touch. These are available every day.
An order of goat curry is eagerly anticipated, and fails to disappoint. My biggest complaint with goat curry is usually the over-use of boney cuts, resulting in very little substance. These were actually quite meaty, complete with tendon, which make for a nice contrast in textures. The gravy was a bit oily, but had an amazingly rich flavour. Not overpowered with cardamon, tumeric, or cumin as many other curries are. Well balanced, and long simmered, the sauce had great complexity. It showcased the perfectly crisp Naan well too, as there wasnt a drop left on the plate when we were done.
Lastly, we shared an order of Chicken Biryani. The meat was a bit bony, and lacked some substance, but the flavour was great, as they used dark meat, and the rice was fluffy and filling.
Our neighbours had the fish tandoori, and offered us a few bites to try. They probably felt bad that we had ordered before them, and they were going to finish their meal before our food came. It was tender, flavourful, and well spiced. An excellent fish dish.
Now, the CHR has cited Baba Ka Dhaba for several health code violations, some which are worse than others, so you’ve been warned. Check at your own peril.
In the grand scheme of things, I think this is a perfect illustration of the power of low expectations. Good service? No. Any atmosphere? One online blogger with a better command of the language than I likened it to “eating in a urinal” – better words I could not come up with! But the flavours and the price really can’t be beat. And I was expecting nothing, other than a meal for Friday night., and instead I got a feast for the taste buds, for two people, all for $20.
If i was to try a well regarded restaurant for the first time and experience the same things, I’m not sure i’d be as understanding. But when it comes to Baba Ka Dhaba, they get a pass. I would highly recommend you try the food, the flavours really are fantastic. If you feel a bit nervous, get take out. It might explain the loads of people i saw eating in their cars, who would occasionally come in and order more naan. I thought it was a hot date location, but im starting to think, maybe they’re onto something…