Careful not to blink or you may find you've driven past one of Long Island's culinary jewels. The new Masalah Grill, situated across from Walt Whitman Shops, makes its home in a little box of a building with seating for fewer than 20. The trim counter-serve spot is big on takeout, but those who value flavor over frills owe it to themselves to eat on site. Allow time, for this is hardly fast food.
Recipes and spice mixtures are the work of owner Farzana Sohail, who hails from Pakistan; at the stove and tandoor is chef de cuisine Francis Calaco, who is from India. At the first bite of the delicate little fried turnovers called samosas, you know you're in the hands of pros. Both the potato-pea filling (the elements distinct and full-flavored) and the savory ground chicken filling work beautifully. Another appetizer, chicken tikka seekh, stars marinated tandoor-roasted chicken thighs -- smoky, crimson, glistening. Seekh kebab, spiced chicken sausages, are preferable to rather mushy ground beef kebabs.
The classic rice dish known as biryani rises to a level of opulence you might not expect at such a modest little suburban spot. The colorful rice mixture (each grain perfectly cooked and separate) is served in a metal pot, the rice studded with moist pieces of poultry, vegetables and coriander, crowned with tiny fried onion curls.
Chicken tikka masala, also called butter chicken on this menu, is a triumph of creamy richness. So, too, is the lush palak paneer, spinach laced with cubes of cheese. If you've never eaten goat before, Sohail's soulful goat curry is the place to start; just be careful of bones. No bones, though, in the velvety chicken curry. Or the lamb karahi, a Pakistani dish with a thick gravy and lots of appeal.
Breads are a must. And sometimes a meal. Such is the case with chicken keema naan, flaky layers sandwiching a spiced ground chicken mixture. Ideal for eating with your entree: onion naan, hot and fragrant. And simple whole wheat roti.
You could finish with kulfi (rosewater-scented Indian ice cream) or rasmalai (cottage cheese balls in sweetened milk). But mango lassi, the Indian version of a yogurt thick shake, is what you want to have in hand as you raise your glass to this welcome newcomer.