Before I consumed a bite, I was already impressed by Kolachi, its sunny décor and its well-spoken host, Sandy Ibrahim, who explained to me that Kolachi was an old name for Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan. Ibrahim, it turned out, is a partner in the three-month-old restaurant, whose principal owner is Billy Mayan.
She was so very welcoming that I asked her to suggest what I should order for dinner. "Lamb chops," was her immediate reply. "OK," I said. "Would you like some buttered naan?" "OK." "How about some dal tarka?" "OK."
Dal refers to lentils, dried peas or beans cooked until soft. Tarka (also called tadka) is a method of seasoning wherein whole spices, such as cumin and mustard seeds, are toasted in ghee (clarified butter), then the aromatic melted butter is poured over the dal. This dal was made from tiny urad dal, gram beans that are black when whole but yellow when skinned and split, as they were here. I wasn’t able to discover what exactly was in the tarka but it lent the dish uncommon flavor, warmth and depth.
A great kitchen can imbue beans with greatness — remember, Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of lentils — and Kolachi's did the same with the four lamb chops and the accompanying basmati rice and naan. It dawned on me that this was not your average Pakistani / Indian restaurant.
When I got owner Billy Mayan on the phone a few days later, he explained that his goal with Kolachi is to present the real, home cooking of his native Pakistan. "You see these Indian and Pakistani places with these huge menus — except for the grilled meats, it’s just impossible to make all that stuff from scratch to order," he said.
Kolachi’s menu features a lot of grilled meats — chicken, lamb, beef — whole, on skewers, ground into kofta and patties. Most of these also find their way into sandwiches, along with burgers and falafel. (Mayan’s parents emigrated from Afghanistan to Pakistan and the Afghan influence can be seen in the kebabs.)
There are two classic curries: butter chicken and chicken karahi (a spicy, relatively dry curry named for the pot it is cooked in), plus chicken biryani and kolachi keema spaghetti, a sort of homestyle take on Bolognese. The three vegetable dishes are dal, curried okra and paneer [fresh cheese] karahi). Prices are extremely gentle: Nothing costs more than $16; most dishes are under $10.
For Mayan, Kolachi is the culmination of a career in the food business. He owns a number of fast-food and fast-casual restaurants, including Halal-N-Out in New Hyde Park and multiple locations of Texas Chicken & Burgers. But the food he serves at Kolachi is based on the food his family eats at home, and he was determined to share it with the public. "Even though the timing wasn't right," he said, "something told me I must do this."
Kolachi offers takeout and indoor dining. By the end of April, Mayan plans to set up a tented dining area in the parking lot.
Kolachi is at 20 Meacham Ave., Elmont, 516-502-4288.