They say you shouldn't mess with success. That's probably what Mohammad Afzal had in mind when he opened his third Ravi Kabob House, in Springfield's Brookfield Plaza, last week. Fans of his first two, oddly situated across the street from each other in Arlington, will feel at home right away.
"All Ravis, same menu," Afzal says.
That menu, featuring hearty, no-frills Pakistani food, has won a loyal following for Afzal and his business partner, Abdul Alnoor. Customers, most there for carryout, regularly pack the seen-better-days storefronts in the Buckingham neighborhood despite the area's acute parking shortage. And that's where the latest venture sets itself apart: The space is newer and brighter, and parking is free and easy.
Start with the lone appetizer, a vegetable samosa stuffed with potato, peas and onions. You can order the deep-fried pastry plain ($1.50), but better to get the "special" version, with chickpeas and a minty yogurt sauce ($2.99), delicious and filling enough to serve as lunch.
The main attraction: nicely marinated chicken, beef and lamb kebabs ($8.99 to $11.99, with mint sauce and sides), cooked just enough to create a respectable char while keeping the meat succulent and juicy.
Afzal says customers also favor the Lahori fried fish ($9.99). A whole croaker is marinated and lightly battered, then gets one final swim in hot oil. It emerges with a crisp exterior and still-moist interior, lightly flavored with spices that don't overwhelm the delicate flesh.
One of the stars of this show is a humble side dish that accompanies many of the entrees. The Lahori choley (chickpeas) are a marvel, cooked to tenderness in a mix of spices that Afzal won't reveal. "If we don't have those, the people get upset," he says. Other sides that are standard with many main dishes are rice, a forgettable salad and freshly cooked nan; the bread is a little dry, but use it to sop up sauce or juice, and you've solved that problem.
Bolstering the daily menu, Ravi offers four specials on weekends and a regular, revolving trio of specials every weekday. Wednesdays, for example, bring kofta curry with egg ($8.99), a slightly greasy but tasty comfort-food dish of beef meatballs and whole hard-cooked eggs in a thick, spicy sauce.
Among the drinks, you'll find the typical lassi ($2.50) and mango lassi ($2.99). But for a more unusual experience, go for the Kashmiri tea ($1.50). The warm, peachy-pink brew is redolent of cardamom; milk lends richness, and a sprinkle of pistachio nuts adds flavor and texture. Be aware that salt is a traditional ingredient in this drink, so the sodium-averse won't be charmed. But others might find it -- well, exactly their cup of tea.
-- Jane Touzalin (Good to Go, March 25, 2009)