Patiala Brings the Indian Burn to 34th

34th isn’t so bad, food-wise. We’ve got the Nameless Empanada Cart and horrible, horrible soup, as well as kickin’ awesome pork buns and noodle soup, but it’s hard to find good stuff around here that isn’t tourist-infested or over the ML price limit. When Patiala started building into the old Tawa Tandoor space, my hopes were raised. This part of town may not be Curry Row but we’d sure as hell like our fair share of decent Indian. It may not be a flashy start-of-Spring opener from a big name, but damn, we lucked out with Patiala.

It’s close quarters – no tables and chairs, just a counter behind where you walk in. Immediately facing you is the takeout selections – different kinds of chicken, what looks to be one or two kinds of lamb or goat, and veggie dishes galore ready to serve up as advertised by this flyer taped to the window. I ordered off the menu, but every Indian person that came in (which was about 10-15 people total in the time I was waiting) ordered from these. They may have had the right idea.

The dishes available look like palak paneer, mutter paneer (it looks like it’s in a sauce, I’m used to a drier mutter paneer – but can’t wait to give this a shot!), chana masala (chickpeas that rule), the usual chicken tikka masala, and some kind of ground lamb or goat dish with hard boiled eggs.

That’s a real tandoor. No cut-rate naan here. Tons of skewers abound for kebabs and grabbing naan. One of the chefs was constantly going to and from the tandoor to roll and toss dough to slap into the tandoor, and pull out for naan. The entire place smells like grilled dough. There is no better smell anywhere.

So I ordered the sarson da saag mini meal and onion pakora. The latter was to break the $10 credit card minimum, but after seeing how much they gave me, I felt like I should have gone to my bank’s ATM and gotten the cash. They gave me a LOT of food even if you leave the pakora aside. Fortunately, my co-workers were happy to help me out with the pakoras. And with a plate or two given out of the sarson da saag. All that was $9. There’s a huge variety of ML-limit-friendly items across the spectrum, so you don’t have to settle for crap.

These are darn good pakora. I’ve had them before where they were just dessicated Indian onion-ring wannabes, but these had a really nice coriandery flavorful spice to them. Lots of turmeric and curry in there, too, with enough dough to give them some body but not become doughy messes. They were crisp and hot – definitely freshly fried.

On to the sarson da saag. I’m a huge junkie for palak paneer/saag paneer, but I wanted to keep things on the lighter level if I could. The sarson da saag is a little bit more liquidy than your average palak paneer, but it’s a really flavorful vegetarian dish. It has a deep flavor to it, very subtly spiced in a flavorful (not quite heat-spicy) way. There’s chunks of celery and a few spinach leaves in as well, and it paired amazingly with the coriander chutney for spice and bright, punchy flavor. I really, really loved this stuff. It needed a little more salt, and I’d have liked it to be hotter out of the box, but it was a good take on Indian spinach.

Other than properly-done basmati rice, the mini meal came with a makki roti. I hadn’t tried this permutation of roti before, but man, this is one fresh and wonderful thing. It’s dense but not too thick, so it makes a satisfying scoop for the rice and sarson da saag. It’s definitely a cornmeal-based bread but it’s not like anything I’ve had otherwise.

I’ll be honest: I love the idea of having an Indian option that doesn’t suck or just does the standards. Okay, I get it, chicken tikka masala is the national dish of the UK – but can we get some more variety in there? At least put goat on the menu? Patiala has you covered. Plus it’s enough for at least two meals, even if you don’t over-order like I did. Hell, next time I’m going back for chaat and pakora to call it a meal. Of course, it also makes a great en-route-to-Penn-or-Port-Authority meal, and they pack securely enough to take home.

The + (What the Indian IT professionals would say):

  • GOAT! Yes!
  • Real variety amongst some damn good Indian food
  • Inexpensive for what you get.

The – (What the people who rightfully grumble about outsourcing would say):

  • Gotta love the credit card minimum… $1 more than most dishes.
  • There’s no space to eat – takeout only, bleh.

Patiala, 371 West 34th St., btw 8th and 9th

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