By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009
Think of this halal establishment (no pork, no alcohol) in Silver Spring as a fast-food joint with high standards. While it takes some patience, once you place your order at the counter, the payoff might be lamb chops flavorful from their marinade of ginger, garlic and red chili flakes, or a beef patty flecked with spices. Both dishes are expanded into small feasts with the addition of very good nan and a vegetable side. Chat samosa is an appetizer sized like an entree, a sort of soup-salad created from chickpeas, yogurt, jalapenos and broken bits of crisp samosa crust. Don't miss it. And keep in mind that some of the open kitchen's best work is available only on weekends: haleem, for instance, is a zesty stew of shredded chicken and lentils that fans know to ask for on Saturday or Sunday. The lights are too bright, and the napkins are too thin, but powder-blue walls and faux stone tiles add some panache to what looks like Just Another Kebab House from the street but goes down like something special.
Worth the Wait
Who cares if the goat stew isn't ready at this young eatery? The alternatives are just as good.
By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 17, 2009
The early bird doesn't always get the worm.
Here I am at Kabob n Karahi, just a few minutes past 11 on a Sunday morning, and the guy behind the counter tells me I can't have the goat karahi. It will be another hour or longer before the popular dish -- a sort of goat stew seasoned with garlic, ginger and turmeric -- will be ready, says the ponytailed Raza Rehman, one of the owners.
An hour or more! I've got a friend in tow, and both of us are ravenous. Having eaten in this new self-service establishment in Silver Spring before, however, I know just what to say to solve the problem.
"Lamb chops, please."
That sets into motion a little drama in which the order is called out to several men in the open kitchen, one of whom plucks meat from a display case near the counter and another of whom starts pat-pat-patting a round of dough that eventually will be thrown into a tandoor and baked into a pillowy disk for eating with the entree.
The 10-minute wait is worth it. The lean lamb chops are a little crisp and a lot flavorful; a marinade of ginger, garlic and red chili flakes, a dusting of sumac and just the right amount of time on a charcoal fire will do that to a piece of meat. Like all of the main courses, this one turns into a small feast with the addition of that bread or basmati rice, chutney and a choice of side dish (fresh spinach with potatoes is one of several satisfying plate-fillers).
Kabob n Karahi is a halal kitchen, which means it adheres to Muslim dietary laws forbidding the consumption of pork and alcohol and requiring special slaughtering methods and blessings. (Karahi by three entrepreneurs who take turns watching over the storefront and a small kitchen crew that includes cooks from Pakistan and Nepal. (One of them, Devi Khadka, toiled in the kitchen of Ravi Kabob in Arlington for a decade.)
Their combined efforts translate into some very appealing food. One of the best appetizers, chat samosa, could easily stand in as a whole meal. Broken pieces of crisp samosa are mixed with onions, tomatoes, yogurt, jalapeo pepper and chickpeas for a sort of salad-soup that has us reaching first for a plastic fork, then for a spoon (you won't want to miss a drop of the zesty swirl, a Mexican bean salad by way of Mumbai). Mellow but rich, the chickpeas are worth ordering just by themselves, though. Rehman keeps their recipe a house secret, allowing only that they're prepared from scratch, "not from a can," and treated to 15 seasonings. Don't be put off by the earth tones of the food on display up front, behind glass on a steam table. What resembles dull yellow mush, for instance, might be a tongue-teasing haleem. Available only on weekends, it's a rich stew of shredded chicken, lentils and more than a touch of heat in the spicing. The haleem is a much more interesting plate than the chicken biriyani, noteworthy only for its cardamom-fragrant yellow rice. And if you want meat but not lamb, the spice-flecked beef patty fills the role nicely.
Launched in December, Kabob n Karahi falls somewhere between a tidy dive and a fast-food joint with ambitions. The paper napkins are so thin you can almost read through them, while the lighting would make Joan Collins flee the premises: It's klieg-light bright and unflattering. But the 70-seat, shopping-strip enterprise comes with a bit of style, dressed up as it is with broad booths, faux-stone tiles, powder-blue walls and framed photographs of some of what goes into the wok: tomatoes, ginger root and spices. The absence of background music has its rewards; "I've never been in a quieter restaurant," a friend whispers on an early weeknight. Indeed, the lone sounds tend to be the random laugh of a child waiting with his parents or an owner explaining the day's specials to someone over the phone. Diners don't get numbers when they place their orders, which can be confusing when several meals are ready at the same time. "Hey, boss!" one of the men at the counter might announce to the assembled group of customers. His shout-out prompts every head in the dining room to swivel to see whether the trays with food or carryout bags are theirs.
The dishes at Kabob n Karahi might take some time. The guys behind the heat make the wait pay off.
Note: No alcohol.