When Hoboken Dhaba replaced The Hummus Bar, I was thinking: what? Another Indian restaurant? How many do we need? Think about it: we had plenty of restaurants serving Middle Eastern dishes, mainly focused on falafel and hummus and now, only few of them are still standing. So Indian? Ok, India on the Hudson that was my favorite closed recently because of rent increase (hopefully they will relocate!), but there is still Bombay West, Matt & Meera and Karma Cafe. So I was wondering what would make Hoboken Dhaba different. It was time to check that out!
I discovered what Dhaba is after I went for a press dinner at The Masala Wala in New York: it is a street side shed where people can eat some food sold by street vendors. Now, looking at the decor, it make sense! They have the equivalent of booths that are in fact representing dhaba.
It is a very colorful restaurant, with bright colors on the walls, banquettes, pillows, and with tables being used as a display for spices that are pretty common in Indian cuisine.
If you go there, you will also notice the lamps hanging from the ceiling that are made of forks, knives and spoons!
So, there are two things that characterize Hoboken Dhaba: the street food and the all-you can-eat formula of the week end, that is potentially equivalent to the buffet at Karma Cafe and India on the Hudson. We decided to try both at two different occasions. The first time was the all-you-can-eat.
They propose two versions: vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Jodi picked the first one and me the second. It is not a buffet: they bring you their selection of the day at the table, starting with the appetizers.
The vegetarian appetizer was, besides a small salad, vegetable pakora (fritters) and chili pakoda (green chili lightly battered in a chick pea flour and fried). So, both were fried, but not greasy. The pakora was very good. the chili was good too (a tiny bit spicy), although not my favorite.
On my side, the non-vegetarian appetizer was made of the same salad, tandoori chicken and some chicken smothered in a chili sauce.
The chicken was good! The chili one was not as spicy as I thought when I heard it was a chili sauce and it was both sweet and sour. The tandoori chicken was very good: still moist, with a beautiful red color, a bit of char and the delicious taste of spices.
Then came the main dishes. For Jodi, the vegetarian platter.
It is what is called a Thali, a selection of dishes served on a tray, concept that I discovered years ago in Mumbai and that is also served at Bombay West. It was composed of:
- Rajma (top left): this was a special made with beans that was also on my thali. A bit too spicy, it had the consistency of a thick dahl (lentil dish).
- Aloo Gobi (bottom left): potatoes cooked in spices (spicy).
- Eggplant with paneer cheese (top right): another special of the day. It was very good and not spicy this time.
- Cauliflower in a chili sauce, very hot (bottom right).
On my side:
It was composed of:
- Rajma, similar to Jodi's dish (bottom left).
- Cauliflower in a chili sauce, very hot (top left).
- Chicken Tikka Masala (top right): this was my favorite! Very creamy, not spicy, I could eat that sauce with a spoon!
- Another chicken dish that was spicy.
What was disappointing is that I asked them to point out on the menu what the items were and they were not that forthcoming, explaining why I could not retrieve the name of the dishes. I think what was a bit disappointing for my thali is that they served two chicken dishes: I would have preferred two different proteins. Also, they served two vegetarian dishes that are not on the menu: I personally would probably serve dishes that people can order when they come back or recommend if they love it.
With the meal, we got some delicious fresh naan:
And they were nice enough to bring us some raita (no charge) to extinguish the fire caused by the spices!
My other weapon against spices is always lassi. This time, I decided to go for a sweet lassi, although it was not on the menu.
Lassi is a yogurt drink where water, spices and sometimes fruit is added to the yogurt. Depending on the restaurant, it has different levels of thickness. The one I ordered was thick, not too sweet and had some cinnamon on top. I really liked it, but it was very filling! The second time I went to Hoboken Dhaba, I chose the mango lassi.
It was delicious: creamy with this wonderful taste of mango. Again not too sweet but very filling!
Then, we got dessert! And it was my favorite: gulab jamun!
Gulab Jamun is a cheese ball that is fried and then dipped in a sugar syrup. This was fantastic: cooked all the way through, sweet, it was served slightly warm.
Even if my first experience at Hoboken Dhaba did not meet my expectations, we decided to go back, but this time to try the street food!
We started off with the vegetarian sampler.
For $8, there was surely lots of food! It was composed of:
- Vegetarian samosa: light and crispy, with a bit of spiciness.
- Chili pakoda, similar to the first time we went.
- Batata Vada: battered fried spicy potatoe balls, similar to croquettes, but with Indian spices and spicy!
- Veggie pakora: a bit greasy and overcooked this time.
Then we ordered the Bhel Puri or crispy puffed rice mixed with chutney and spices.
I was a bit disappointed: it was not as crispy as the one at The Masala Wala and not as good either. I did not eat too much of it...
Then, the Dahi Puri that are lentils shells filled with veggies and yogurt.
This was very good, but not as spectacular as the one I tried at The Masala Wala (sorry, I repeat myself, but it was a memorable dinner!!!).
This is a one bite thing and I loved the different layers, from the lentil shell that was very crispy to the veggies and yogurt. We ate it all!
I also wanted to try the lamb samosa.
I love lamb, but, unfortunately, this did not meet my expectations: the lamb was dry and the shell was overcooked.
Last was the chicken lollipop:
It really looked like lollipops! But again, it was a miss...The problem was that they left the skin that was not fried and gave a gelatinous taste to the dish. They would have removed it, or even fried it, it would have been a great dish.
So, at this point I am really on the fence after these two visits: I liked the classic dishes but disliked most of what we ate...I will probably go for a third time to make up my mind and will stick with some classics.
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And Remember: I Just Want To Eat!