Calgary Hot Plate Restaurant – Calgary, AB


Calgary Hot Plate Restaurant
714-5075 Falconridge Blvd NE
Calgary, AB
(403) 590-1244

“Kebab and naan,” he says, “that’s all I ever get”.

Just that alone got me to agree to having a quick dinner at this little place in the heart of Calgary’s East Indian community.  Coming in from the bristling December winter cold, the aromas alone were a much needed welcome.  Order at the counter, scan the specials board along with the regular menu sheet.  Simple process and setup.  Sit down and wait…

Out comes the warm square bowl of Chicken Qorma – with some good sized chunks of breast meat braised slowly in a combination of spices to create a velvety yogurt curry.  A definitive spicy kick to this mixture, instantaneously you feel the heat rip across your tongue along with the intoxicating flavors.  The accompanying huge plate-sized rounds of freshly made naan at first seem like a little much, but soon you’re ripping them apart and wondering if you might run out.

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Naanbites – New Westminster, BC


Naanbites
805 Boyd Street
New Westminster, BC
(604) 527-9997

As might be the case with many people raised in North America, one of my first forays as a child with Indian cuisine was through one of my school friends who came from a family with heritage from that part of the world.  I remember to this day on his eight birthday, being invited over to his home and being exposed to an array of brightly colored and incredibly spicy food that I’d never seen nor tasted before in my young life.  I think the few of us who were invited over all experienced the same shock at it all, that is until his mother remedied that by bringing out something from the kitchen that was milder tasting and had an ingredient that all kids love – chicken.

And so butter chicken will be and probably will remain a lasting dish when it comes to Indian food.  And despite its rather stereotypical image as a “safe” choice among the amazing variety you get in dining out in Indian restaurants, I see it chosen all too often.  And I’m guilt at times.  But more so when its at a lower end establishment, cause I know they can’t seriously mess this up.  Case in point, this little place I came across in Queensborough, called Naanbites.  Based on the name alone, I thought it might be some kind of place just making some creative/fusion bite sized snacks featuring naan bread.  Alas, I was wrong.

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Rasoee – Vancouver, BC


Rasoee
104 – 2138 Western Parkway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 221-9355

Classes are out for the winter break at UBC.  Though I’m sure there are some who have to stay behind and get through the end of year festivities on their own for whatever and various reasons.  Instead of a hearty turkey dinner with family, I’m sure some might make their way to University Village, for whatever might be open to serve those unfortunate souls spending this week on their own…

In November, Rasoee set up shop in a former video rental store space.  Its a quick and easy, mainly take away franchise chain with origins in Toronto.  Over the last seven years, it has expanded to other cities out east (Burlington, ON), as well as out here in the western provinces (Calgary, Edmonton, Whistler and Vancouver).  This particular location has a very small counter where you could eat your meal in-house so to speak.

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Tenku Bakudanyaki – Richmond, BC


Tenku Bakudanyaki
7100 Elmbridge Way
Richmond, BC

May 2010 re-visit post here

Original post below:

So much has already been mentioned about this little trailer truck serving up an interesting treat which takes some cues from Japanese snacks such as takoyaki and okonomiyaki, that I’m not sure how much more I can add to what’s already out there in the blogosphere but here goes…

With some out of town visitors in tow, I thought I would share with them this unique place before our scheduled dinner in Richmond.  Only here for a sample tasting, we shared one order among the four of us and ate it standing up at the small upright table nearby.  Amused by the various tastes to be had, one of us said “let’s get the curry one”, and so it was.

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Pita Star and The Curry and Kebab Grill – Vancouver, BC


Pita Star
146 East 3rd Ave
Vancouver, BC
Tel: 604-874-1524

Pita Star on Urbanspoon

I love getting tips about great places to eat…especially holes-in-the-wall. So when a friend called me the other day and said that he had a tip about a new Indian place from a reliable source, we jumped at the chance to try it out. The tip came from a friend of Indian descent, so this place must be solid…or so we thought. As it turns out, it was a food counter that is being run within Pita Star, a place I used to frequent when they served some of the best falafels in the city.

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Pita Star is a storefront for a small-sized family run pita baking operation. You can get their bread at various grocery stores and supermarkets around town. I have purchased pita and Falafel sandwiches from here on in the past (I then make another stop at Swiss Bakery which is right across the street). I hadn’t been here in a while because they closed their storefront and focused on their wholesale business. It looks like that has changed.

A secondary operation called The Curry and Kebab Grill has taken over the food bar in front. (They also sell frozen Indian meals to go…which is interesting). We had a quick read of the chalkboard menu suspended over the counter. They have Curry and Rice specials for $5 and an assortment of Indian dishes.

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We ordered a Butter Chicken and their Platter Combo 1. The Butter Chicken was…well…disappointing. It had the familiar neon-orange sauce found in food court-grade Butter Chicken. The sauce was much too sweet and lacked complexity.  The meat was very dry and flavourless…they had used chicken breast (probably a bulk Costco pack of boneless and skinless breast).

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The Combo Platter was a selection of deep fried items which included Beef Kebab, Mogo (cassava), Nylon Bhajia (dollar potatoes) and Samosa. It also included a triplet of dipping sauces –  Tamarind, Coconut-Cilantro Chutney, and Green Chili Chutney.

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The Samosa, Nylon Bhajia and Mogo were decent – fresh tasting and not at all oily despite being deep-fried. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. The Kebab tasted pre-fried, stale and dry.

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My lunch companion picked up a frozen curry meal to go. He reported later that it was “decent.” It was packed into a vacuum sealed microwavable segmented container  resembling a TV dinner (remember those?)

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Clearly, I had my expectations set too high. Perhaps if I wasn’t so picky, I would probably enjoy this food. This area which is at the edge of a light-industrial zone is a little thin of good eating (the truly amazing Argo Cafe is just around the corner, however) so this cafeteria probably fills the bill for many people working within walking distance.

A tip like the one I had most often leads to hidden gems…not this time, unfortunately…not for me anyway.

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Pita Star on Urbanspoon

Baba Ka Dhaba – Calgary, AB


Baba Ka Dhaba
3504 17 Avenue SE
Calgary, AB
(403) 207 5552

Baba Ka Dhaba on Urbanspoon

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

Baba Ka Dhaba on Urbanspoon

Taj Mahal Club – Kowloon, HK


Taj Mahal Club
B4, 3/F, Block B, Chung King Mansion
36-44 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui

Kowloon, Hong Kong
+852 2722 5454

There are some cuisines that for some reason or another just seem more conducive and better appreciated in a group environment.  For me, Indian is one of those.  Perhaps is the still relative niche-ness and lack of true understanding of the diversity of this country’s food culture by many North Americans that leads one to want to share with others – perhaps out of fear of making a disappointing decision while ordering the unknown. Others might suggest that its just simply wanting to try a little of everything on the usually large menus of such restaurants – which in and of itself is not a bad thing for someone that is continually trying to broaden their perspectives and knowledge.

While in Hong Kong recently, it dawned on me that there might be a hypothesis worth testing.  Does the lack of great familiarity with Indian cuisine also work hand-in-hand when dining in a group where most people don’t know each other well?  A double dose of hesitation, uncertainty and tentativeness so to speak.   I decided to have an actual experiment and our group’s decision to share a meal together in a strange country (no native Hong Kongers in our posse), with non-native cuisine and in a location (the restaurant was inside an actual residential complex) that was slightly intimidating, even further complicated matters.

Located on the third floor, and with a group of ten members, we opted to take the stairs up to the Taj Mahal Club restaurant, despite the existence of an elevator.  In hindsight, I am not sure that was the wisest decision, as the halls were darkly lit and dingy, with all sorts of local residents (all apparently Indians) sitting in the stairwell passing time with friends, and it felt like we were invading someone’s private space.  I swear I also saw smears of red on the walls which did not look like paint at all, and made me think this place has a sketchy past.  But once you get to the front door, you are welcomed by a brightly lit display, complete with press coverage dutifully collected and shown on the wall – including both local and foreign media.

Despite the relatively uneasy start to our night, the meal itself was an excellent example of the ability to get authentic ethnic cuisine in a country not native to that type of food.  The various curries we ordered included some staple chicken and lamb for those more timid, as well as more pure vegetarian options (yes, those people still do exist!).   The lamb version that I sampled had an ample amount of spice and was flavorful and the hot kick from it certainly made the bowl of rice and plates of fresh naan go all the more faster.  The coconut milk-based curries on our table were a bit sweeter and thus satisfied those for whom high levels of spice was not appreciated.  Simply put, our folks with various preferences meshed well with the curry menu and it enabled everyone to get at least one that they enjoyed, thus not leaving anyone out.

Tandoori chicken is always a catch-22 for me.  As much as I enjoy it, too many times I’ve been let down by it being overcooked and a dry, flaky mess of meat.  Thankfully, Taj Mahal Club does an amazing job with this.  The meat was tender and juicy, and the marinade had held up incredibly well through the cooking process.   An assortment of other dishes were on our table, but given the size of our row, I was unable to get other images.  But judging from the loud conversations and general jovial mood and rapidly depleting plates and bowls, I could tell that things were just as tasty at other sections of our row.

So how would I conclude my tested idea?  I would say that whenever great food can be had, it certainly helps to relax the mood on a night out with people who are meeting for the very first time.  The diversity of Indian cuisine, even in just the well known curry dishes alone, work well to meet the personal tastes and needs of everyone at the table, from carnivores to vegetarians, lovers of spice and those who are not.  When people are not really comfortable with a type of cuisine, I think that even works to help break the ice and enable those who are slightly more familiar to share what they know, and engage others in conversation.  A sort of exploration as a team occurs, with everyone anxious to give their thoughts and opinions on each dish, knowing that its a safe environment with nobody really standing out as a true expert on the cuisine so their impressions won’t be smashed to smithereens.

I’m sure the cold pints of Kingfisher didn’t have anything to do with it either…