Well, time flies, which is so cliché. The restaurants were many and very satisfying to the palate. A group of friends and I had been engaging in ongoing conversation about food and I, as usual, was the first to offer the suggestion to do something about our hunger. What better way to show love for some great eating than a Google search in advance of rushing out the door to feed the monster. Laptop on. Launch Google Chrome browser. Search for restaurants with a culture starting with zed. And, eureka, Zabihah popped up as a search result. [By the way, zed is how the British say Z. I’m losing a lot of my American-speak from interacting with blokes and skirts.] We congregated at Western and Devon and began our search for a Zabihah restaurant. With it being hot enough to, shall we say, make people in the tropics shut it about the heat and humidity, our search was short. We ended up in Usmania, at 2253 W. Devon Avenue.
What looks like an American tourist trap from the outside was clearly a contradiction on the inside. Filled with patrons who were a part of “the culture,” and I do mean overflowing, that was a clear indication that we had hit the jackpot. Quickly seated by a waiter who spoke very little English, but was more welcoming than what you get at some common suburban strip mall restaurants, he took our orders of mango lassis and gave us time to peruse the menus. Another waiter later came by to take our orders and stayed long enough to explain anything that we had questions about. Say what? After it seemed like our ordering was endless, he was even more accommodating and that was an absolute high point. One thing to note is Usmania did not have an appetizer section on the menu. That was a rarity, but it was not a strike against the restaurant. It simply meant that we planned to order additional food, if it came to that. Recognizing that Indian and Pakistani food can be somewhat heavy with the gravies, we played it safely and started our orders. With there being five us of present, we each picked a dish.
We had seekh kabab, nehari, karahi chicken, daal palak, channa daal, and mutton biryani. In addition to the main dishes, we ordered three breads to go with our meal: onion kulcha, tandoori naan, and paratha. Of course, we had this all served family style — none of that individual plate activity. The seekh kabab was fine minced beef seasoned with delectable spices, pressed into sausage-like shapes, and then charcoal grilled on a skewer. The nehari was a special Pakistani dish that came in a clay pot. This yummy sensation was pieces of beef mixed up with a spicy curry, and we showed our appreciation by gobbling it up without delay. Another dish that went well with the side of basmati rice we ate was the karahi chicken, which were tender pieces of chicken in an onion and tomato sauce with a touch of ginger and chillies, cooked in a Pakistani frying pan called a karahi. For our vegetable sides, this is where the daal palak and channa daal came into play. The daal palak were lentils cooked with spinach and spices. The channa daal were chick peas cooked with mild spices and were great complements to the paratha bread. A huge hit was the mutton biryani. This was mutton marinated with tomato, green pepper, mint, onion, cilantro, and cooked over basmati rice.
Now, while those were only five main dishes, the portions were sizeable and the addition of bread and rice made it all very filling. One would not think that we would even contemplate dessert. If it was on the menu, then it was fair game, so we had three desserts for our glee. We downed a qalandri kheer. This popular Pakistani dessert, which is made from basmati rice and milk, flavoured cardamom seeds, almonds, and raisins, is the equivalent of rice pudding, but so tasty that those who are allergic to nuts like me do not even realize there are almonds in it. [I am not allergic to exotic nuts, so the almonds were great.] The kulfi was Indian/Pakistani ice cream served up in small blocks under vermicelli noodles. The most exotic dessert was the falooda. I know I have had falooda at one of the many restaurants, but I cannot recall which one. This was a parfait of jellied fruit, ice cream, and vermicelli noodles. After we finished all of these desserts, we were thoroughly filled and defeated. Add satisfied to the list because this was certainly a great way to wrap up the alphabet.
Since it was only two hours of us sitting around enjoying the food, loving the food, and cracking jokes, we sat a few more minutes contemplating whether we wanted to immediately rush back outside into the muggy heat. We had paid the tab, which was not bad at all considering all of the food we ordered, and did not want to hold up a table. So, I beckoned to one of the waiters and ordered a round of chai for everyone. That was a great ploy for avoiding having to leave the restaurant and rush out into tropical temperatures, if I may say so myself. Yes, I know that hot tea seems to be rather contradictory, but only if it were Lipton or Nestea instead of Indian chai. The shocker came when we prompted one of the waiters that we wanted the tab for the chai and the owner came to the table and told us that it was on the house. What? The magic is in pulling out the camera and taking photos of the good food. Although the owner was very accommodating, we showed our appreciation by tipping heavily. Every good deed deserves a reward and we walked away from Usmania having chosen it on a whim and having received total customer satisfaction, outstanding food, and an act of kindness from the manager that made our visit way more than its weight in gold. Thank God for the letter zed and this wonderful Zabihah restaurant.