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The Khyber's barah kebab is worlds away from the muttony, overdone stuff that passes for lamb in too many Indian restaurants. Humming with malt vinegar and beautifully pink inside, it's a knockout. It's a little unfair to order the reshmi kebab at the same time; so nuanced are these slender cylinders of minced chicken, cashews and fresh-pressed cheese that the exuberant lamb can overshadow their charm.
Once upon a time, I ate some tandoori lamb chops at Washington, D.C.'s exemplary Bombay Club. Ever since, I've been longing for a reasonable Houston facsimile. Now, here it is: rosy-rare chops with a breezy yogurt tang and a minty topspin. Like all the grilled entrees, they come with a triad of grilled carrots, green peppers and onions. There's naan on the plate, too, and fragrant rice laced with almonds and cumin, and an elemental salad of lemony cucumber and tomato seasoned with pungent black salt. That adds up to a complete meal; unlike most Indian places, the Khyber is geared as much to individual diners as to ravening hordes of inveterate sharers.
2510 Richmond Ave.
Houston, TX 77098
Region: Lower Shepherd-Kirby
The vegetable dishes here, for example, come in share-able bowls or, a highly civilized touch, in individual side orders. The grilled potatoes in yogurt and "royal cumin" -- or "uppity cumin," as Kapoor calls this mellower white version of the seed -- have plenty of tartness and dash. Ladled over rice, the garlicky, tomatoey daal of black lentils and red beans could hold its own in New Orleans. And saag paneer, the spinach dish cradling soft chunks of briefly grilled white cheese, is a relatively austere version that doesn't suffer from its lack of cream and oil. Why should it, with jalapenos and yogurt to give it a kick? This is the only saag paneer I've ever encountered that didn't fill me with an urge to rush out and confess my sins.
There are desserts. They are, like most Indian desserts, an acquired taste. The phirni is a sort of gentle rice gruel fleshed out with ground nuts and coconut; halwa, a sweet minced-carrot pudding, looks for all the world like baby food. I'll have another cappuccino, please.
And I'll give thanks that Mickey is back in business. I'm not the only one. "What's the difference between Northern India and Southern India?" a diner asked him the other day. "About 2,000 miles," he deadpanned from behind his bow tie and spectacles. Nearby, a couple of women pricked up their ears. "I'd know that smart-ass voice anywhere!" expostulated one. "What a blast from my past!"
Precisely. Kapoor still has some kinks to smooth out -- over-enthusiastic use of Pine-sol is one of them -- but his new place seems a good fit. Neighbors like Yildizlar, Pizzeria Uno, Ninfa's and the burgeoning World-o'-Pappas put him in a lively, well-trafficked zone. Already, high above the al fresco terrace with its oh-so-Houstonian vista of Mahan Volkswagen, Mickey has signed an autograph of sorts in those interchangeable letters local merchants dote on. "Used Karma Dealer," reads the sign. It's funny, and apt, and a little poignant, too. My karma feels better every time I see it.
Khyber North Indian Grill, 25l0 Richmond, 942-9424.
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