Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Sunday with Friends and Masala

Matt and I have wanted to try Al-Shams ever since we saw friends posting about it on Facebook. My husband is particularly fond of spicy dishes, and he has since introduced to me the rich masalas of India and the pungent kebabs of the Middle East. My stomach has become weak- thanks to years of using ice-cold Coke as a hangover cure- and could not handle too many spices, but once in a while I do develop a craving for rogan josh or chicken makanwala. Finally, one sleepy Sunday, Matt, Mark V., and I traverse a short length of the SLEX to get to the emergent foodie destination in ParaƱaque.

Al-Shams’ interiors are brightly-lit and modern- no kitschy murals of the Taj Mahal or saris draped on the walls. Instead, framed photos of enticing curry dishes and grilled meats act as guide and a visual amuse bouche for guests.

The menu is a mix of Middle Eastern, Indian and Pakistani. The original Al-Shams had branches in both Makati and Manila decades ago, but only re-opened recently in BF Homes with partners Adil Khan and Ali Atienza (old friends from their Taekwondo days) at the helm. Adil is the son of the previous owner, and the current chef was part of the original kitchen. Therefore, what you get in the current incarnation are all authentic Al-Shams dishes, prepared the same way as they did in the old branches.

We started with our favorite Indian staples- Vegetable Samosas and fried Papadum. The samosas were warm and aromatic, just the right size for an appetizer, while the papadum (which can also be toasted) was light, crisp and delicate. These were both enhanced by a trio of sauces- sweet tamarind, parsley and garlic yogurt.

For the mains- first to arrive were the Chicken Makanwala (chicken cubes cooked in a rich butter and yogurt sauce), Seekh Kebab (grilled ground beef) and naan (flat bread).

The chicken makanwala has always been a favorite, and I like Al-Shams’ version because it is not overly gee-d. There was a pleasant tanginess which I suppose can be attributed to the yogurt and the whole tomato (which I stabbed with my fork to release some of its juices). This I sopped up with pieces of naan.

Freshly grilled, the seekh kabab was tender and full of flavor, and delicious with the tzatziki that it came with. If you want your kababs with a more pungent garlic sauce, ask for the one that was served with the appetizers.

The Ran Masala was a popular dish at the old Al-Shams, and I remembered Sanju’s nostalgic post about it in his blog so I decided it was worth a try. I am so happy that I did because that was definitely the dish of the evening- tender leg of lamb cooked in an unctuous brown sauce, the meat’s mild gamey flavor was deliciously enhanced by the robust masala. It was so good that we ordered more of the equally tasty biryani with it.

And, since we had more of the long-grain rice, Matt thought, “What the heck… Might as well get an order of rogan josh.” Which we did. The mutton was tender and tasty- a pretty good dish. But then, that ran masala is a tough act to follow.

By then, Ali and Adil have arrived at the restaurant for what apparently is their traditional Sunday ritual. Ali, an old family friend, invites us to join him and Adil for a short chat. He himself orders his own ran masala with roti- a partly flaky, partly elastic bread- but made extra spicy. After our nth “I’m-sooo-full”, Adil decided to give Mark and I some Persian tea, which helped bring down the unbelievable amount of food we just consumed (Ali: “Umm… yeah… Medyo nagulat nga ako sa in-order niyo.”). After a round of scotch and some animated conversation about food, friends and bullies, we have decided to leave the old friends to enjoy the rest of their Sunday, with the promise that we will be back soon for more of that delicious ran masala.

Keep that pot of Persian tea boiling, guys.

Aguirre St.
BF Homes, ParaƱaque
Tel. no. (632) 5004399

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