Mom’s touch transcends culinary borders. The way she tucks bread neatly into the basket, fills each serving bowl to the brim, offers extra napkins so you don’t make a mess. The way you can relax into the meal, confident that you’ll be well and truly fed.
Sudesh Nawaz is the mom in charge at Lazzat, and her soulful interpretations of Indian and Pakistani dishes can make you forget you’re in a storefront on Sunrise Highway. This is a Lazzat’s second home; it operated from 2003 to earlier this year in North Bellmore until the landlord decided to convert the building into a medical office.
In Wantagh, the tiny dining room has a ramshackle appeal with its mix of reclaimed wood, religious art, postmodern pendant lights and walls painted in hues of mango and turmeric. The room — the domain of daughters Chetna and Risha, and son, Ryan — is dominated by a takeout counter but, through a small window just behind it you can see Nawaz and a helper or two in the kitchen.
Nawaz is from Punjab, in the north of India, where tandoor ovens have been roasting meats and baking breads for millennia. Tandoori chicken, dutifully served by many Indian restaurants, is wonderfully succulent here — big, bright red pieces served on a black iron skillet with rings of white onion and green peppers. If Tandoor were a country, this bold, colorful dish could serve as its flag. (I’d recommend individual orders of tandoor chicken or kebabs or patties rather than the assortment platter, some of whose contents had dried out.)
Meat dishes in general get high marks here; cuts are tender and gristle-free and never inundated with gravy. Achar gosht was a particularly “dry” curry, goat (or lamb) cooked with fennel and onion seed and showered with fresh cilantro. Of course, the more gravy there is, the more expertly cooked basmati rice and naan bread you are forced to consume, and if that’s your aim, try the bhuna gosht (goat or lamb with ginger, garlic and fried onions) or the karahi chicken, swimming in a fragrant sea of tomatoes and peppers (and much more).
A highlight of my meals at Lazzat was the haleem, a sort of meat porridge made with beef, cracked wheat and lentils and garnished with fresh ginger, lemon and jalapeños. The first few bites were disconcerting; it was as if someone had crossed pot roast with cream of wheat. But the more I ate, the more I came to appreciate that haleem, a specialty of Pakistan, is one of the world’s great comfort food dishes. Bring on winter: I’ve got my haleem to keep me warm.
Vegetarians, Lazzat has you covered. Even though Nawaz is from the meat-eating north, the menu offers scores of meatless options. Among the tastiest were aloo gobhi, a clean and fresh stir-fry of spiced, tender cauliflower; and aloo tikki, savory pancakes of mashed potatoes.
Very few of the dishes here failed to satisfy, but I found the chana masalah (stewed chickpeas) monotonous. Dahi bhalla chat, a complicated assemblage of fried lentil fritters with tangy yogurt and sweet tamarind sauce, looked and tasted muddy. Malai kofta, vegetarian “meatballs” in a creamy sauce, was almost candy sweet.
"Candy sweet" is what scares me off many South Asian desserts, but my fears were allayed at Lazzat. The long-cooked rice pudding, kheer, was a balanced, soothing finale to an intensely flavored meal. Even better was the gajar ka halwa, a sumptuous pudding made with condensed milk and shredded carrots and topped with wafer-thin slices of almond.
Lazzat does a brisk takeout business, and the waitstaff has their hands full handling the orders while tending to the diners who are eating in. But their warmth and heartfelt apologies more than made up for any delays. Mom has taught them well.