Sunday, April 17, 2011

But Where Did the Chometz Come From? (Rego Park's Tandoori Bakery)

After reading this post from Taxi Gourmet, Tandoori Bakery in Rego Park, Queens, immediately went on my "to go" list. Today Florence and I decided to try it out - remembering only on the way that Pesach starts tomorrow evening and that Tandoori very well might not be making anything involving chometz. (The restaurant is kosher and is closed on Shabbos.) This feeling was compounded on the twenty-minute walk there first by the multiple closed kosher shops we passed and then by at least five signs on Tandoori's window proclaiming that it is kosher, kosher for Pesach, and closed for the entire week of the holiday. Oh, and that all of the its chometz has been sold.

So, happily and confusingly, the first thing we saw when we walked in was bread everywhere! Lots of what we later learned was lepeshka - Bukharan bread - and a few samsas, or the Central Asian baked version of samosas. It took a few minutes to get anybody's attention as the counter was quite crowded, but we managed to secure ourselves a table. This in itself was unexpected, as given the name (Tandoori Bakery) we were expecting some sort of counter-only place. But no, there were plenty of tables, and in fact one group of men by the window looked as if they had been there since about 9am and planned to stay all through the afternoon and well into the night. (We got there around 12:30pm.) It really was like walking into a different world in a lot of ways: one where everything was written in Cyriliic, about half the men were wearing yarmulkes, and vodka was not only accepted but standard for lunchtime. I later mentioned to Florence that it seemed like the Uzbek version of Vin Cafe, the restaurant in Alba, Italy, where we whiled away far too many nights with dinner and wine. Not usually the mornings, though.

We pored over the menu for awhile - I tried to figure out what the Cyrillic side said but am not very good at that alphabet yet - and settled on a few items. A pot of tea (mandatory, I think), lepeshka, two samsas, and marinated cabbage salad. I took the waitress' industriously scribbling silence as a good thing, but what arrived - tea, bread, one samsa, and carrot salad - proved me otherwise. No matter - it was all fantastic. We requested another samsa, but when I picked mine up it soon became apparent that we had a small mountain of food on our hands. As we saw the other tables lingering over their meals, we relaxed - this was not a place to tear through and leave in a half hour. Spending a few hours here listening to the chatter and people-watching would be just fine, thank you. Especially when we could watch the corner table repeatedly get up and stumble out the door (did I mention they had Absolut AND Grey Goose?) to say goodbye to one of their number.

A bit of research tells me that lepeshka (think nine-inch-diameter bialy) is baked in a tandoor, as are the samsas. Both have the combination of crispy bottom and chewy top that clay ovens do so well. The samsa filling was beef, onions, and cumin - kind of an Uzbek empanada, as I've seen some other places call it. The carrot salad is called morkovcha and is, according to this Times article, "a legacy of Stalin's mass deportations of ethnic Koreans from the far eastern Soviet Union to its western frontiers." It consists of shredded raw carrots in a dressing that is mostly vinegar, green onions, and raw garlic. In that it is surprisingly similar to liangban huanggua, the Chinese salad of sliced cucumbers dressed with sesame oil and raw garlic that we'd had the night before at Lao Bei Fang. The morkovcha was delicious, although there was a ton of it. But we did pretty well with our small mountain of edibles, and when we left, the last guy at the corner table had just gotten another pot of tea to work though. I have a feeling there was more vodka coming as well.

Tandoori Bakery
99-04 63rd Road
Rego Park, Queens
closed on Shabbos - sundown Friday to at least one hour after sundown Saturday

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