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photo:B.A. Nilsson

Subtle Spice Spreading Northward
By B.A. Nilsson

SHALIMAR

Shopper’s World Plaza, 15 Park Ave., Clifton Park, 348-1494. Serving a buffet lunch Mon-Fri 11:30-2, Sat noon-3; dinner Mon-Thu 11:30-10, Fri 11:30-11, Sat noon-11. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Pakistani-Indian

Entrée price range: $6.75 (aloo chana and many other dishes) to $11 (salmon tikka and much more)

Ambiance: the inevitable strip-mall feel

 

‘Is it very spicy?” This was the question I heard posed 25 years ago at a Schenectady restaurant called the Maharajah (later to become Sitar), so when I heard it again last week at Shalimar, I asked owner Liaquat Khan how persistent this issue remained.

“Our food is very mild, and our customers in Albany and Troy know what to expect. But here in Clifton Park, we’re attracting customers from as far north as Glens Falls, people who don’t have a lot of experience with Indian cuisine. And so we have to reassure them.”

He owns downtown Albany’s Shalimar, and opened, but then sold, the one in Troy. “But the Troy Shalimar was bought by a former manager, so we still advertise together.” Khan has also worked with food-service companies that provide the large-scale feeding in corporations and on campuses, so his knowledge of food and the business goes way beyond the niche in which he’s most publicly glimpsed.

“I know American food,” he says, and he offers it when he caters events, but he’s seeing more and more call for Indian fare. “I have catered some large American weddings,” he says, “where the food is what you’d find here in this restaurant!”

If you’re familiar with the other Shalimars, you know what to expect here. It’s a formula he doesn’t mess with, and he has chef Noor Islam, who created the first Shalimar menu, overseeing the food at both of his places now.

“Meat dishes, the Tandoor cookery, that’s largely from Pakistan and India’s Punjab region,” says Khan. “When you see cream dishes, vegetarian dishes, you’re looking at food from southern India.”

The ultra-hot, clay-lined Tandoor oven is the heart of the meat portion of the menu, giving a quick and flavorful finish to the kebabs and the red-colored chicken characteristic of the restaurant.

When it comes to the spicing, heat is only one of many compelling components. A core repertory of aromatic herbs and spices goes into most of these dishes, chosen and combined in order best to enhance the flavor of the base ingredient, be it cubes of lamb, chunks of fish or a marriage of vegetables.

You can buy a commercial curry powder, but that’s just one interpretation of the ratio and choice of spices. Better to customize it—using coriander, fenugreek, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves and, if you choose, much more (or even less)—and then dry-roast the spices yourself.

And that’s the approach at Shalimar. A dish like palak aloo (spinach and potatoes in curry sauce, $6.75) is sweeter than you might expect, but you’re expecting the native bitterness of spinach, which disappears in this recipe. Compare this to palak paneer (spinach and homemade cheese, 6.75), and you’ll note the subtle contrast, with the cheese reinforcing spinach’s more aggressive flavor tendencies.

How hot-spicy does the Shalimar kitchen get? I ordered beef vindaloo ($7.75), traditionally the warmest item on an Indian menu, and I asked for it to be spicy, but even so it was subdued. They’ll go out of their way not to hurt you.

Beef dishes abound. You can get it with spinach (beef palak); in the Italianesque beef do piazza, which adds tomatoes, onions and peppers; chopped up and served with potatoes (keema aloo) or in a curry sauce, among other preparations (all under $8).

So it is with chicken and lamb. Enjoy them in combos with vegetables, in cream sauces, in curry sauce, or literally sizzling as they come to your table, fresh from the Tandoor oven. Lamb boti kabob ($8.75) is the Tandoor version of that meat, redolent with its marinade and surrounded by a heap of equally hot onion slices.

A more intricate preparation is a biryani, a multi-ingredient extravaganza cooked around rice; this can be ordered with vegetables ($8) or with any of the fish or meatstuffs ($9 to $11).

Chicken biryani sometimes appears on the lunch buffet, which is served every day except Sunday. This is a popular feature of Indian restaurants, offering a quick, inexpensive lunch (the price at Shalimar is $6) that’s a boon for any worker with a strict half-hour for the midday meal.

And it offers a good sampling of the menu. Other items we saw in the chafing dishes included Tandoor chicken, chicken do piazza, bund gobi aloo (cabbage and potato stew), mushroom jalfrazi, and two cream-sauce-based dishes: vegetable korma, with a mixture of distinct ingredients, and malai kofta, in which the veggies are mashed into balls, then fried and sauced.

One of Shalimar’s strengths has always been its low pricing, so you’re easily able to experiment with the menu over the course of repeated visits. And don’t forget the nan, a soft flatbread cooked in the Tandoor oven, available plain or with a combo of herbs and/or cheese.

Once again, it’s encouraging to see a non-chain restaurant thrive in the midst of big-box-ville. Clifton Park needs this, possibly more than any other community in our midst.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Speaking of Beekman Street activity, the Yawning Duck Pasta Co. and Gotchya’s Trading Co. are combining forces to open Gotchya’s Trattoria, a fresh pasta market and espresso bar by day and neighborhood Italian restaurant by night, which means that the Yawning Duck will be moving to the current location of Gotchya’s, 68 Beekman St. The combined opening will be on March 31; Got chya’s Trattoria will be open Tuesday through Saturday at 11 AM for the fresh pasta market and espresso and pastry bar, and dinner service will begin at 5. They will begin to take dinner reservations next week. 584-5772 or www.gotchyas.com. . . . In Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout Finch makes several mentions of Miss Maudie’s Lane Cake. A version of this multilayer cake, with coconut, pecans, candied cherries and raisins in the filling, will be the centerpiece for a “Mission Society Dessert Table” at a reception on April 8 at 2 PM at Schenectady County Community College. The reception follows a lecture by Claudia Durst Johnson with the provocative title “Bela Lugosi, Rosa Parks, and Harper Lee: Social and Universal Issues Reflected in To Kill a Mockingbird.” The program is free. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (food@banilsson.com).


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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* E-mail address not required to submit your feedback, but required to be placed in running for a Van Dyck Gift Certificate.

What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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