Good meals make good memories at south side restaurant
Warm, fresh-baked bread is bound to be good. But some bread is better than others, like the sesame naan at Kabana Grill on the south side.
Crisp and light, bubbled from the intense heat of the tandoor oven, this particular bread (called roghni, or tilwala, $1.99) made me think “Oh, that bread!” on the drive home.
I thought of the food often after that first visit to Kabana Grill, which serves Pakistani and Indian dishes. The flavors stayed with me, and Kabana’s become a favorite restaurant in short order.
Kabana Grill opened quietly in late December. It’s not easy to spot from busy Layton Ave., tucked away as it is in a corner of a shopping plaza where there’s a Middle Eastern restaurant and a halal butcher and grocer.
Before, the storefront was Dera Grill, also a Pakistani-Indian restaurant, but super-casual, almost more of a diner. Along with the new name and a new owner —Tina Akbar, who grew up in Milwaukee — comes a redecorated room: Gone are the booths, replaced by sleek, comfortable black leather chairs and glossy tables. Brick-red walls hold floating shelves of pottery and other art pieces. The storefront’s gone upscale, though it still has fluorescent lights instead of softer lighting.
It’s comfortable and pleasant, and the staff is welcoming and helpful. The menu was in transition — some dishes were unavailable as Kabana Grill updates its menu — but the classic dishes I tried were delicious, infused with garlic and ginger and aromatic spices like cumin and cardamom.
It was true for appetizers like qeema samosa ($2.75 for two), crunchy fried pastries stuffed with spiced beef, and shaami kebab ($5.99 for two), crisped, seasoned patties of lentils and beef.
The fried plates were awfully good here, including spicy pakora ($3.99), fritters of vegetables including abundant onion, and egg rolls ($2.75 for two), a reflection of the Indian and Pakistani fondness for Chinese food.
Deep frying sealed in the juices under crisp, seasoned skin for the chicken chargha entrée ($14.99). The whole bird, bone-in, is hacked into equal portions for serving.
But there’s more to Kabana Grill than a fryer; it has tandoors and makes good use of the oven for entrées, turning out reshmi kebab ($10.99), ground chicken fragrant with garlic and ginger, and seekh kebab ($9.99), juicy chopped beef, for instance, as well as chunks of chicken boti ($10.99).
A Pakistani menu means beef dishes like haleem ($10.99), the meat cooked with lentils, barley and wheat until it breaks down and thickens; the haleem here wasn’t the typical porridge-like consistency, but no less delicious for it.
And there was paya ($9.99), trotters cooked slowly until thoroughly tender and giving up their richness to the tomato-tinged broth.
Excellent curries and stews included bhindi masala ($7.99), okra with tomato and onion; chana daal ($7.99), smoky lentils in a tomato-tinged sauce; and cholay masala ($7.99), chickpeas with rich spices. They might sound deceptively simple, but the flavors were beautifully complex.
Mutton dishes (meaning goat) included a terrific palak goosht ($12.99), served steaming hot and the meat on the bone. The restaurant will be adding boneless lamb dishes when the new menu is launched in a couple of weeks or so, Akbar said, along with more boneless chicken dishes.
Beside a fairly long list of dishes ordered and adored, only the biryani struck me as good but not great; its seasonings, it seemed, weren’t thoroughly distributed.
Dessert was rarely suggested, but it should be, since the two I managed to order were done well and house-made: kheer ($3.50), the milky rice pudding, and gajar halwa ($3.50), the sweetened carrot pudding of sorts.
Now through Monday, when Ramadan ends, Kabana Grill serves a nightly buffet of chaat, entrées and a dessert at 8:30, when the faithful break their day’s fast. The room is full then, drawing a number of families with small children; reservations would be smart.
A note: Rice ($3.99, enough for two or more) was a la carte. You’ll likely want to order rice with some dishes. And bread. Don’t forget the bread.
Originally published on www.jsonline.com