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Dreams Really Do Come True

October 18, 2010

My dreams aren’t like your dreams.  I guess there is no way that I could know that.  But I hope you have better dreams than I do.  My dreams are of perfectly crusty and tender carnitas folded into a soft corn tortilla with a splash of hot sauce, diced onions, chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime.  And I dream that one day I might be able to get one of those tacos in Albany.

Sadly, that dream hasn’t come true, yet.

But there are two others that have.  One is monumental and involves the opening of an institution that just very well may be my new favorite restaurant in Albany.  The other involves a bit of good news that I am very excited about, mostly because it is something I missed the first time around and never expected the chance to try again.

The Other One

Life gets busy sometimes.  Now I can’t even remember what was so pressing that it caused me to miss Downtown Albany’s Fall Restaurant Week.  But whatever it was kept me on the sidelines, which was unfortunate.  Mostly I was upset about missing the menu at Jack’s, which among all the contenders seemed to have the greatest promise.

Although, truth be told, while I was bummed to have missed the menu I wasn’t that bummed about missing restaurant week.  It’s a zoo.  And it’s a zoo in which service suffers.  One of my readers got in touch about going to Jack’s during the event and being abandoned at their table for thirty minutes before eventually deciding to leave without eating a bite.

Imagine, then, my surprise at hearing that Jack’s is extending its restaurant week menu at the originally promoted price through November 7.  The restaurant week menu, with the restaurant week price, without the crushed spirits of the restaurant week staff?  It’s like a dream come true.

Especially since I got a phone call out of the blue from a reader with an unsolicited and glowing testimonial to the deliciousness of Local Ocean’s Royal Dorado.  And while the call was encouraging me to buy some from Price Chopper, having a skilled and trained chef prepare it for me in a lobster sauce may be a better introduction to our new local fish.

The Monumental One

Speaking of zoos, one of my favorite places to eat in Berkeley was always a madhouse.  It was located out in the warehouse district, parking was difficult, and you could always count on a line.  The thing you couldn’t always count on was a seat to eat your food once you got it.

So walking into the restaurant, you would always pass the huddled masses eating their tasty vittles on the curb like some kind of foodie vagrants.  The place had no service.  It had no ambiance.  You stood in line, placed your order and waited for some semblance of your name to be called over the loudspeaker.  For one order your name could be called several times, as food was served as it was made.  And it was never all made at the same time.

What, pray tell, in a town full of good food would make otherwise sensible people put up with all of these indignities?

Authentic Indian chaat.

Damn, that stuff is good.  Sweet and savory, crisp and soft, hot and cold, spicy and soothing, and often all at the same time.  Never did I think a place like this would open up in Albany.  Thankfully I was wrong.  It’s like a dream come true.

This place isn’t for you, that is, unless you are South Asian.  That isn’t to say that the people there aren’t incredibly friendly and accommodating.  They are.  They will answer any questions you have about the dishes and be gracious and charming about it.  What I mean is that this isn’t Indian food designed to be accessible to Albanians.  This is Indian food for Indians.

You will know this the moment you look at the menu and have no idea what anything is.

Albany Jane accompanied me on my maiden voyage to this place, and you can see some of the food pics on Albany Eats.  Since then, I’ve already been back, and I really do plan to try everything on the menu.  It helps that most everything on the menu is five dollars and under.

Here are a few menu tips and suggestions should you bravely go forth.

Dahi is yogurt.  As in the Dahi Puri ($4.99) which is eight two-inch puffed crisps (puri), that are filled with beans, potatoes, raw onion, chutneys and yogurt and dusted with spices, sev (a crispy powder-like topping made from deep fried strands of chickpea flour) and chopped cilantro.  The idea is that you are supposed to pop an entire round into your mouth and eat it in one bite to experience all of the contrasting flavors and textures.  I could eat these all day.

Many other chaat have a similar mix of ingredients in slightly different combinations.  So the Papdi Chat ($4.99) is almost the same as Dahi Puri, but instead of the filling being stuffed into a puri, it is tossed on a plate with some flat fried crisps.  Equally delicious, but if you are only ordering two things, there is a lot more diversity on the menu.

Like the dosas.  I actually had a dosa in Albany once, at Royal India.  It’s an incredibly large and thin pancake; think crepe, but bigger, crispier and more Indian.  The Masala Dosa ($5.99) here has a much better spiced potato filling than the version served at Royal India.  Don’t be alarmed by its magnificent size. It is not entirely filled with potatoes, rather there is just a scoop of them in the center.  Use it wisely.

It’s hard to say what I’m most looking forward to trying next.

The classic Idli Sambhar ($3.99) is steamed cakes of lentil flour with a soup flavored with tamarind and dal.  I’ve never had a Vada Pav ($3.99), which is like an Indian sandwich.  And although I thought Young Master Fussy would have gone for a Paneer Uttapam ($5.99) which I think of as a bit like an arepa (but other compare it to a pancake or a pizza) I couldn’t pull him away from his Mango Lassi ($3.99).

Just to tease you a bit more, they are closed today (Mondays).

So you will have to wait until Tuesday before you get to experience chaat in Albany.  Then run, don’t walk, to Parivar Spices & Food, 1275 Central Avenue.  Officially they say the food bar opens at 3pm, but Albany Jane and I had no problem getting food before noon.

You may never even realize it’s vegetarian. Plus, they even have tables, so you don’t have to eat your food out in the parking lot.

I am so in love.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    October 18, 2010 10:30 am

    The Local Ocean Sea Bream (also called Dorado but not in Price Chopper) is indeed delicious. I’ve cooked it twice.

  2. October 18, 2010 12:56 pm

    I did actually get to Jack’s during Restaurant Week and had the fish – it was really delicious, and luckily for us, the service was fine.

    I don’t, in general, cook fish at home, but I might be on the lookout for this one at Price Chopper.

  3. Cindy permalink
    October 18, 2010 2:07 pm

    Thank so much for this heads up! I can’t wait to try this place. Authentic, inexpensive, lots of variety… what’s not to love? YUM!

  4. Gabby permalink
    October 18, 2010 2:15 pm

    Yes, my husband & I went here a couple of weeks back & loved this place–not only for the freshness & deliciousness but also the friendly service and reasonable price. Closest thing to Indian street food/snacks we’ve seen anyplace around here!

  5. Mike W permalink
    October 18, 2010 4:39 pm

    Add radishes to your taco dream and you’ve got my dinner three times a week when I lived out in East LA. Not sure I needed to be reminded how much I miss Los Angeles on this Monday afternoon, but Parivar Chat sounds awesome.

  6. October 18, 2010 9:10 pm

    There’s a recently opened Latin Market at the corner of Central and Allen in Albany that has potential to have passable tacos. I will investigate and report back.

    I’ve been excited about the food bar at Parivar since I heard there was going to be one. I’ll have to check it out.

  7. Cindy permalink
    October 21, 2010 1:24 pm

    Daniel (and readers interested in Indian food and culture): you might enjoy my sister’s recent blog post, which includes detailed descriptions of the meals that her family ate during their recent vacation in Kochi (Cochin), in the state of Kerala in India. She, her husband and their daughter are living in New Delhi from August through December for work/research.

    Here’s a link: http://tcnagle.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/kerala-diary. (It’s a long post, so read when you have plenty of time).

  8. January 4, 2011 2:54 pm

    You’re talking about Viks in Berkeley aren’t you?! Loved that place when I was there. I’m happy Parivar Chat seems to be of the same kind :)

    Can’t wait to sample it. Yay.

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