Chowhounds have long gravitated toward Hicksville, which for the last two decades has been Long Island’s epicenter for the cuisines of South Asia: Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Afghan and more. Now two newly opened restaurants, each utterly distinct, are challenging diners’ assumptions. Zaoq 100 focuses on the Pakistani tradition of live-fire grilling, adding steakhouse-style meats and an opulent dining room. Tikka Charcoal Grill brings Indian flavors under the umbrella of Asian fusion and serves these imaginative creations in a sexy, flashy setting more Vegas than Delhi.
Tikka Charcoal Grill
200 N. Broadway, Hicksville
The first thing to know about Tikka Charcoal Grill is that the name is misleading, which managing partner Syed Hossain readily concedes. “Tikka,” skewered meat, hardly figures on the menu, nor is a charcoal grill involved in most of the dishes. Hossain and his cousin Fatima Roma (owner of the Royal Palm banquet hall in Farmingdale) began transforming the deserted Boulder Creek chain steakhouse three years ago, when the concept was upscale Indian and the name was chosen to convey a connection to Hossain’s Brooklyn-Queens mini-chain, Tikka Grill.
“We wanted to do Indian, but with the kind of style and amenities that you don’t see in a lot of Indian restaurants here,” he recalled. But he couldn’t find the right chef in the U.S. and his efforts to bring over a prominent chef from India kept falling through. Meanwhile, construction dragged on.
During the delay, Hossain began to rethink his plan. Since he emigrated from Bangladesh in 1995, he had worked steadily in high-end venues, none of them Indian. He was particularly inspired by his time at Spice Market, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s grand Meatpacking District salute to Asian fusion that closed after 12 years in 2016. “I always wanted to open a restaurant like Spice Market,” he said. “And that’s what I started to work on.”
Hossain was also an admirer of Toku, the Poll Brothers’ modern Asian restaurant in Manhasset. But he noted that few Asian fusion restaurants incorporate Indian flavors in their repertoires. “We’re in Asia too,” he deadpanned. (More confusingly, most of LI’s “Indian fusion” restaurants are really “Hakka” restaurants, serving the distinct cuisine that you find in Chinese restaurants in India.) Hossain found a willing partner in executive chef Jaime Sanchez, who had spent the prior decade cooking for the Tao Group, an international collection of restaurants with three Asian fusion Taos in Manhattan.
ON THE MENU: Sanchez’s menu has a small section devoted to Indian favorites but even they are done with worldly flair: The lamb korma, for instance, is not made with pieces of lamb, but features a whole shank (halal, like all the meat here) reposing in a creamy cashew sauce, garnished with microgreens.
Other menu highlights include New Zealand mussels in a coconut broth with garlic, shallots, basil and Thai chili; a Thai green curry that bathes a vegan-friendly assortment of cellophane noodles and crisp-tender vegetables and enoki mushrooms. Sanchez brings the drama with a starter of grilled octopus that has been tossed with gochujang (Korean chili paste) and then plated with puddles of squid-ink purée, each segment walled off from its neighbor by a shard of ink-tinted tapioca cracker.
Sanchez offers a handful of traditional American Big Night Out dishes including a bone-in rib-eye (albeit with Sichuan pepper and macadamia mint sauce) and whole steamed Maine lobster served with garlic-ginger basil butter sauce and pea shoots. These last two items can run north of $60, most other mains are $28-$40, starters from $15-$20.
IN THE DINING ROOM: Big Night Out is emphatically the vibe here. First, in a break with most local South Asian restaurants, there’s a full bar with a roster of East-meets-West signature drinks, among them Zen Garden Harmony, made with gin, green-tea shochu, Thai basil matcha powder and, giving it body and foam, egg white. The décor, from the dramatic lighting to the poured microcement floor all evince a deep intentionality. Curtains made of woven metal (think chain mail) descend from the high ceilings and can surround select tables with a shimmering privacy zone. The dining room seats 60 people, but for a bigger night out, there’s a cavernous event room (remember, this used to be Boulder Creek) that can be subdivided to suit the guest list.
MORE INFO: 516-548-7180, tikka-charcoal-grill.com. Open Tuesday-Thursday 4-9:30 p.m., Friday 4-10 p.m., Saturday 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4-10 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4-9:30 p.m. Closed Monday.
100 S. Broadway, Hicksville
Ahmed Khan's concept springs from his own passion: live-fire grilling. “Cooking over gas is good,” he remarked, “for lazy people.”
Even before he left Pakistan as a young man, he was drawn to charcoal flames. During the decades in New York when he was making his way in retail footwear, that passion intensified. At one point, he owned 250 Weber Grills. The number is now down to 160, which may have something to do with the enormous new grilling toy he’s been playing with at Zaoq 100. Imported from Brazil, the churrasco rotisserie features a layer of charcoal above which are suspended three rotating spits that bear all manner of seasoned “tikka” meats such as russet-toned chicken, lamb and beef tikka; cream-bathed chicken malai tikka; verdant chicken green chili tikka. (Yes, Tikka Charcoal Grill wouldn’t have been a bad name for this place but Zaoq means “flavor,” 100 is the street address on South Broadway and Khan liked the combination.)
ON THE MENU: Kahn's beloved rotisserie is responsible for all of the tikkas, as well as the lamb chops and chicken wings. Chicken “lollipops” (plump drumsticks) are slowly smoked on Khan’s Big Green Egg. This is also where he grills porterhouses, T-bones and rib-eyes. The grilling is easy, he explained; procurement is hard. Zaoq 100 adheres strictly to the dietary laws of halal that dictates, in part, the manner in which animals are slaughtered. Khan only buys zabiha halal, which, he said, signifies that the animal was dispatched by hand and not by mechanical means. For now, he is using a high-quality choice beef, but has located a source for prime zabiha halal which should show up soon.
The third jewel in this culinary crown is karahi, the famous curry named for the iron vessel it is cooked and served in. Khan specified that his is Shinwari karahi, originating with the Shinwari tribe that inhabits northwest Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. Compared with many South Asian dishes that rely on masala (a complex mixture of spices), this one has a tiny ingredient list: chicken or goat (called “mutton” in most Pakistani and Indian restaurants) plus tomato paste, salt, black pepper, green chili and garlic. “When you eat the meat,” Khan said, “you should taste the meat, not the masala.” For vegan customers, he has created a very creditable dal karahi, made with tiny black gram beans. Sharing is encouraged here; count on spending around $40 a person, more for the steaks.
IN THE DINING ROOM: What takes all of these dishes to the next level is the manner in which they are served. Zaoq 100’s elegant dining room is furnished with tables and banquettes, grand chandeliers, white tablecloths and a photographic mural of the Pakistani National Monument in Islamabad. What comes to the table is even more spectacular. Khan imported platters, pitchers, casseroles and even cups from Pakistan, all heavy copper and either carved or hammered by hand. The mixed platters, an assortment of grilled meats arrayed around a mound of rice and garnished with charred peppers and tomatoes, induce gasps when they are presented.
The presentation, he believes, is critical to the restaurant’s success. Or, at least that’s what his daughters tell him. Fatima, 19, and Naima, 18, run Zaoq 100’s social media and nothing pleases them more than when customers eschew the menu, pull out their phones and say, “I want this.” Khan cooks according to ancient methods, but he wants his restaurant to appeal not only to customers who grew up in Pakistan, but to their children and grandchildren whose appetites can be swayed by stunning visuals.
His daughters also took a leading role in Zaoq 100’s adjacent gelateria. That’s right, the section of the restaurant that faces South Broadway is a full-blown gelateria, with gelato made in New Jersey according to Khan’s specifications. Many of the flavors are familiar from South Asian desserts — pistachio halvah, malabi (rosewater) — even if fresh gelato is not common in this community. “Pakistani people always like to end the evening with something sweet,” Khan explained, “and we wanted to give them something different.”
MORE INFO: 516-513-0438. Open Wednesday-Thursday noon-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday noon-11:30 p.m, Sunday noon-10 p.m., Monday 5-10:30 p.m., Tuesday noon to 10:30 p.m.
Tikka Charcoal Grill opened at the site of the former chain steakhouse restaurant, Boulder Creek. A previous version of this story was incorrect.