113 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
Forest Hills, NY 11375
My experiences at Baluchi's in the past have been, in a word, zero. My only knowledge of Baluchi's has been through the experiences of others or the occasional message board commentary. Simply put, this particular NYC mini-chain has scored below average. Friends have called it forgettable and some message board comments have been less diplomatic. As a result, I've tended to avoid the place. This was a silly thing to do.
For the record, do I think that it's amazing Indian food? No. It's Indian food for the mild of palate. Nothing I tried was strong and even the spiciest dish was timid. That said nothing I ate was bad. Also for the record, I'm somewhat shocked that Forest Hills has so many Thai places to eat and only one Indian one. For a neighborhood whose residents seem (at least the ones who write to me) to be clamoring for new and different cuisines, it seems anachronistic for it to lack something as obvious as an Indian restaurant. But I digress.
I arrived with Dudeman and Shrink at about 9pm. It was later than we had wanted to eat, but scheduling was what it was and it was nice to find a place that still had customers in it (though by the time we got the check, they were shutting down). The music when we came in was like a death chant. Not exactly something that encourages lively banter at the table. But, the smells of curry and cumin were pleasant and we were led to a nice corner table (with a good camera angle, heh heh). The biggest downside to dinner here was the waiting. I waited quite a while for the Rents to figure out what to eat, and then once we ordered, we waited a looong time for anything to arrive.
Baluchi's has an impressively large vegetarian menu. Anyone who knows me or reads any of my blogs knows that I'm hardly a vegetarian. Nonetheless, it's good to know that the vegetarians out there have options, especially the eschew dining at Italian restaurants that serve veal (all of them).
My appetizer was the Chicken Malai Kabab, four pieces of charred chicken in a cream cheese and ginger sauce. It was super tender and everyone at the table thought it was great. The cream cheese sauce (is cream cheese an authentic Indian ingredient?) wasn't too thick or overpowering and the char added a little bit of extra flavor. Shrink chose the Aloo Tiki, a potato pancake in a chutney sauce. Ever culture, culinary evidence has shown, has some sort of potato pancake dish. The aloo tiki is the Indian one. It's very thick, like a hockey puck, but tastes basically just like any other potato pancake. Get rid of the chutney and replace it with apple sauce and you're eating Ukranian food. Dudeman rounded the appetizers out with Kachori, a cold lentil dumpling buried in chic peas and a cream sauce. Calling it a dumpling is somewhat disingenuous. The kachori is more like a dense pancake. It was good, albeit not amazing, and should be eaten with a spoon. If all of these appetizers can be summed up with one word, that word would be "mild". Indian without any real spice. Without any real kick. They were all good (especially the chicken), but I've had ramen soup with more muscle.
The entrees came out almost as soon as the table was cleared. Digestion be damned. Dudeman and Shrink went with lamb dishes. Dudeman got the Keema Matar, a ground lamb dish with spices and peas. It was the spiciest meal of the night, and that doesn't say much. Still, it was spicy enough for Shrink to put as her least favorite entree that we ordered. Maybe Baluchi's became successful because their audience prefers their Indian food muted. I liked it a lot, possibly because it had teeth. But it did have flavor, something that Dudeman's appetizer was in dire need of. Shrink ordered the Lamb Pasanda, cubes of lamb in a spiced yogurt sauce. Again, don't confuse spiced with spicy. It wasn't. The lamb was so tender that knives are overkill. Just looking at it could have cut it in half. It was my least favorite entree largely because it was somewhat bitter. My dinner choice was the vegetarian Navrattan Korma and was, in my opinion, and without a doubt, the best of the lot. The variety of vegetables and spices in the sauce made it the most complex of the dinners on the table.
All along, each of these dishes was being eaten off of our respective plates with Kashmiri Pulao, a saffron rice with almonds and raisins and Indian bread. We ordered the Bread Basket, a large basket with what we were told was a variety of bread, but which I think was actually just Naan and Poori. The basket was overkill. We only used a third of it and had to pack up the rest to go.
I thought we could do a dessert, but we were stuffed. Plus they were thirty seconds away from putting the chairs on top of the table.
Baluchi's gets a bad rap I think. It's good food, albeit not necessarily the most authentic. They would be far improved if they added some bite to their dishes. As a side note, I would very much like to see the area get another Indian restaurant or two so that when I crave nose-wateringly real Indian, I don't have to hoof it to the crazy mess of Jackson Heights.