Saturday, January 23, 2010

Samosas in Sunnyside

It was with some hesitation that I decided to tackle the next restaurant of the route. Sonali Cuisine seemed perfect: it's on 44th street and Queens Blvd, it adds some variety by not being Turkish or Korean, and I'm always in the mood for Indian food, or Bengali as the case may be. Plus there's a huge poster on the window with a glowing review from the Village Voice. Sounds great. However, when I began my customary research on the place, I came across some horrible, really bad reviews. My favorite one ended: "Someone else please go there just to CONFIRM the SUCKINESS" (yelp Oct09). Well, if you put it that way...
There were complaints about the emptiness, the microwaving of the food, the small portions. Chowhounders weren't too into it, only one person on Yelp said it was worth going to, but Robert Sietsema made it sound so irresistible. I can't let a good review or a bad one shake me, though. It's about the route and the experience, and a bad restaurant will only make for a good story, right? Right?
So with slight trepidation José and I went there for dinner on Friday night.
It was empty, aside from a man with his computer and a cup of tea who alternated between nodding off in his chair and checking his email. But it was only 5 pm (earlybirds that we are), and there did seem to be a pretty brisk delivery business. I knew that I wanted the butter chicken, after having read in the VV that it was "unspeakably rich" and made with "gobs of butter". Otherwise, we would leave it up to the staff. Whatever they might recommend, we would get. That was the plan and we stuck with it.

The waitress was very nice, I'm not saying she wasn't, but here were our recs:

Samosas, 1 meat, 1 veg.

I liked the chunkiness of the potatoes, and the green sauce was good. And I do love a good samosa. But there were all kinds of other things on the menu that would have been more exciting. I guess we look boring. I'm ok with that, but I think I need a new tactic.

Butter Chicken. I got it, it was definitely butter-y.

Vindaloo. Her rec for José. I guess she could see in his eyes that he wanted something spicy, because she said the vindaloo was hot, and had chunks of potatoes. He nodded his head and made it so. It wasn't very spicy at all, but it had a touch of heat, thankfully (if it had been for me, who knows?). It was well seasoned, the potatoes were cooked nicely, and the chicken was pretty moist.
The rice was definitely basmati, contrary to one reviewer that said it was just long grain rice.
It was perfectly good, plain rice.

Garlic Naan. Chewy, crispy, fresh. I watched through the tiny window into the kitchen as disembodied hands (it was a very small window) stretched out naan dough, so I knew it was house made. The waitress recommended the garlic bread because "it has a smell to it" and I know she meant that in the best possible way.
The meal was not terrible, and that was a huge relief. Yes, they used the microwave to heat our tea, the samosas, and maybe even the rice. But they do that at half of the snack places in Jackson Heights. And it was pretty empty. And I've had bigger portions at other places. But it was fun. We enjoyed watching the man in the corner fall asleep on his laptop, the staff was very helpful and friendly, although they might want to keep in mind that there are some slightly more adventurous eaters out there in the world, we had a nice dinner, and the bill was around $25. Maybe it's better to go in with lowered expectations, or maybe I'm not being picky enough, but I can not confirm the suckiness.

Sonali Cuisine
44-13 Queens Blvd

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