They had me at the place mat Tuesday night at Mirchi in Hicksville. This month-old South Indian restaurant, a branch of a New Jersey-based mini-chain, evinces a charming patriotism by setting its tables with place mats bearing the portraits, dates and party affiliations of all 44 U.S. Presidents.
Then came the menu, which bore this maxim attributed to Sam Walton, founder of Walmart and Sam’s Club. “Customer is the ONLY boss. He/she can fire everybody in the establishment simply by spending their money somewhere else.”
The menu also claims that Mirchi serves “the BEST Hyderabad Dhum Biryani.” (Hyderabad is a large city in Southern India, dhum biryani — or dum biryani — is a dish of slow-cooked basmati rice.)
And so, I ordered a combination chicken and mutton biryani ($17.95), and while I waited, I studied the presidents and noshed on some fragrant, seeded papadums.
I’m generally pleased to be confronted by a huge pile of rice, but this was not among the best biryanis I’ve had. I could discern none of the telltale layers of rice and fried onions that connote a custom-made biryani; neither mutton nor chicken tasted as if they’d been marinated; the rice was a little soft and clumped, many of the grains broken. All of the fresh garnishes — lime wedges, chopped cilantro, sliced onion, had obviously been cut far in advance of being deployed.
I must admit that I was coached in this critique by the little essay, “What is a good Biryani,” that is printed on Mirchi’s menu.
I could see from my table that Mirchi has an extensive lunch buffet setup; it’s $9.95 for about 25 items. On the second Sunday of the month, Mirchi puts on a “Special Mega Lunch Buffet” with more than 40 items for $16.95.
Mirchi South Indian Homstyle restaurant is in the Patel Bros. shopping center at 407 S. Broadway, Hicksville, 516-465-2400.