Q2 is over! Hooray! Version 3.0 of our product was released into the wild, and the crazy, 16-hour days stopped at the beginning of this month.
I'm married! Yay! The wedding was awesome. Furiwa really came through. It'll take the photographer a few more weeks to process my pictures, since this is a pretty busy season for weddings. However, I'll have a post about my wedding reception up once I have all of the pictures.
Until then, here's another review from my Bachelor Party Series. I'm sorry I'm so behind on my posting schedule. I haven't forgotten you guys. I've just been swamped!)
Shalimar. It haunts me. Like the fever-clouded dreams of a stricken traveler, it drifts across my consciousness, fading in and out of my thoughts.
Shalimar. Home of dreams. Birthplace of nightmares. Where decadence and delight brush shoulders with despair. Why can't I forget its food?
From Japantown, we were led through the Tenderloin by the honey-tongued, sure-footed Semajim, a UC Hastings law student and San Francisco local. With promises of the best Indian and Pakistani food the city had to offer, he wheedled us past hustlers, prostitutes, drug addicts, and the homeless. When we finally arrived at the small, steamy, flagship location on Polk Street, our large entourage was greeted by startled looks from the cooks and servers.
The problem was readily apparent. The restaurant looked like a small, mom & pop operation. There was no way they were going to be able seat all nine of us together. Instead of splitting up our party, a server lead us into the restaurant, past the kitchen, out a side door, down a grimy alley littered with filth and refuse, and into what appeared to be a storage room converted from a derelict studio apartment; Shalimar's "private dining room".
The room also appeared to lead to Shalimar's washroom, complete with mildewed tub containing a few cockroaches. The Oni thought that this, if nothing else, was a sign that we were in the land of bomb ass good eats. I was less than convinced.
Shalimar doesn't have a license to serve alcohol. However, what it does have is a convenient liquor store two doors down and a willingness to turn a blind eye. Once we'd cobbled together seating from several mismatched tables and chairs, Semajim nipped down the alley and around the corner to procure some tasty liquid refreshment.
The menus were printed on large sheets of newsprint and could also be used as placemats. Each item had a glowingly cheerful description next to it, such as "Palak Aloo Methi - The pride of Punjabi farmland. A wonderful combination of freshly picked spinach greens. Cooked with young potatoes and 'Kasuri Methi'. It is seductively tantalizing!".
Bewildered by their combination of a bill of fare, restaurant advertisement, and table setting, we stared blankly at Shalimar's selections until Ninjafuzz came to our rescue with list of recommendations.
Shalimar doesn't serve beef. Instead, they have a number of expertly prepared chicken and lamb dishes, such as this Chicken Tikka Masala. A staple of Balti British cuisine, Chicken Tikka Masala is not actually an Indian dish. It was invented by Indian cooks living in the United Kingdom to satisfy the British penchant for spicy curries with thick, creamy sauces. Popular worldwide, it's considered the unofficial national dish of Britain.
Shalimar's rendition was rich to the point of being greasy, with a spicy kick only partially mellowed by the tomato paste. Although the tender chunks of bone-in chicken thighs simmered in the sauce had absorbed all of the flavors, the real star of plate was the thick gravy.
I was tempted by the Murghi Korma Shahi, which the menu described as the "king of curries". Much like the Chicken Tikka Masala, the Murghi Korma Shahi contained chunks of chicken simmered in a spicy sauce. However, instead of a creamy tomato base, the main flavors in the Murghi Korma Shahi were ginger and saffron, and the overall effect was sharper and easier to eat. I could barely finish my portion of the buttery Chicken Tikka Masala, but I could probably have eaten three more helpings of Murghi Korma Shahi.
Ninjafuzz insisted that we get a few orders of Shalimar's Tandoori Chops, claiming that every Indian friend who had sampled them had fallen in love with their tasty goodness. After my first bite, I understood. The plump lamb chops, expertly charred on the outside, exploded with flavors of lemon and spices in my mouth. Amazingly tender and juicy, they showed me a roast meat world beyond the dried out Tandoori Chicken dishes I'd sampled at other, lesser eateries. I wish we'd ordered more. I wish I lived closer to Shalimar.
Some of us wanted veggies with our meal, so we prevailed on the others to try the Saag Chicken, a stewed dish of chicken, spinach, and spices. In this dish, the finely chopped spinach was the sauce. I normally don't like my veggies hammered, preferring them crisper and with a fresher flavor, but the Saag was highly comforting. I thought of it as spinach puree for adults. Gerber might want to consider a new line of products.
In order to accompany the spicy food we'd ordered, I procured a frosty glass of Mango Lassi. The thick and creamy yogurt drink, infused with tropical sweetness and a touch of honey, skipped across my tongue with the fizzy tingle of fermentation gone right. For spicy curries, you need beer and lassi.
The mainstay of an Indian meal is the starch used to scoop, lift, or sop up the food and get it into your mouth. Naan, a chewy, yogurt-leavened quick bread cooked at extremely high heat, is a must-have. We ordered both the Naan-A-Akbar and the Garlic Naan. Each arrived with a hot and crispy crust containing a moist crumb that had just the right amount of resiliency and stretchiness. The Naan-A-Akbar was lightly brushed with Ghee, a type of rendered cooking butter, and was some of the best I've ever had. The Garlic Naan was even more amazing. In addition to Ghee, finely minced garlic had been sprinkled over each piece, adding a pungent yet savory bite to every mouthful.
The more dexterous amongst us also tried the Shalimar Chawal, a special dish of basmati rice cooked with saffron in a rich stock. As Ninjafuzz demonstrated, the proper way to eat Indian food is with the hands. Naan is easy, but rice requires a bit of deftness to not get it all over yourself. The technique he showed us involved surrounding a mouthful of sauce-soaked rice with unsoaked rice, thus keeping the fingers clean, pinching together a small package, and deftly popping it into his mouth. It was an advanced technique that none of us were able to master. Luckily, I was quite happy using my spoon and fork combination.
To finish us off, Ninjafuzz ordered the Sindhi Chicken Biryani. Biryani is the Indian version of fried rice, usually made with whatever happens to be in the fridge at the time. As Ninjafuzz said, if you ever have the opportunity to have a real Indian mother make you homemade Biryani, take it. No restaurant can reproduce that unique flavor. Shalimar's Sindhi Chicken Biryani, made with chicken, peppers, cilantro, and mint, comes as close as any I've tried. While it lacked the depth of flavor homemade Biryani has, it was still a great end to the meal.
Shalimar Restaurant - Amazing flavors hiding in an unlikely location. According to Semajim and Ninjafuzz, the original Polk Street location is the best one, followed by the classier Jones Street eatery. The Fremont and Sunnyvale locations have yet to fully mature.
Bill (items pictured)
Mango Lassi - 2.00
Naan-A-Akbar - 1.00
Garlic Naan - 2.50
Shalimar Chawal - 2.00
Chicken Tikka Masala - 6.95
Murghi Korma Shahi - 5.95
Tandoori Chop - 10.95
Saag Chicken - 5.95
Sindhi Chicken Biryani - 7.00
1409 Polk Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
c532 Jones Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
3325 Walnut Avenue
Fremont, CA 94358
1146 West El Camino Real
Sunnyvale, CA 94087