International Dining 2011: Rangmahal

South Broadway, Hicksville

“You should only serve what you would eat yourself,” is the mantra owner-chef Arun Verma and his wife Kusum have adhered to during their seventeen years at this unassuming glass-plated storefront—and they mean it. They boast refusing to accept any payment for any meal diners find less than 100% satisfactory at their innovative, not fusion, family restaurant. It results in leagues of happy customers and consistently favorable Zagat reviews year after year.

You’ve tried the usual masala this, curry that, now go for the gold. Start with Tandoori Paneer Tikka, a sweetish cheese delicacy that’s cooked on the outside, soft on the inside. Chicken Biryani is rice mixed with chicken chunk, onion, coriander, peppers, cashews, raisins, almonds and a very special Indian cinnamon. It is cooked “dum,” meaning over a slow heat, covered with a wet cloth and lid to allow the steam to circulate the juices within. Tandoori Chicken here is par excellence. It is marinated overnight and cooked fresh every morning to bring the spices fully to life (you’ve never tasted garlic like this before) and keep it moist. For a taste of the sweeter side, go with any sauces based in apricot, ginger or green apple.

Desserts, which you will be hard pressed to find elsewhere, include Resmalai, an eggless cheesecake concoction of Indian paneer (specialty cheese) dipped in milk and dressed with pistachio and rose water. Wash it down with sugarless mint tea or tea of the special cinnamon (warning, it looks like tree bark but it’s sweet).

Key ingredients: Love, passion, coriander for garnish, anise, pomegranate seeds, turmeric, garlic, ginger, onion, tomatoes and Verma’s unique blend of 50 spices he secretly mixes every morning.

Truth: Tandoori refers to the method, not the spices.
A Tandoor is a clay oven in which food is cooked slowly.

False: Curry is a spice.
No! It is actually a mixture of spices that range wildly depending on chef, geography, influence et al.