Dining review: Curry comes into its own at Utah's Zabiha Grill
West Valley City • I was born into the 1970s, an era that popularized dishes such as fondue and the prawn cocktail. My place of birth, industrial Northern England, is a region where white pepper was possibly regarded with some suspicion as an avant garde affectation. When imagining my possible future career, my parents might have predicted something suitably laborious and curmudgeonly. My fellow food writers might argue such a guess wouldn't have been too far wrong.
But oh, how those past four decades changed the U.K. and its collective taste buds. Anyone with a passing interest will know of blighty's infatuation with curry and spice, arguably now the national dish. From Dover to Dundee, you'll find dhansak and dopiaza consumed with zeal. White pepper? Pass the garam masala, please.
Salt Lakers are starting to catch on, as the past decade has seen an explosion of curry houses across the valley. Mind you, some I've encountered have demonstrated more deftness with a can opener than a karahi. One particular award-winning dish I eagerly dug into last year appeared to be no more than that the casual embellishment of Campbell's tomato soup. The opposite of such timid cuisine is what Zabiha Grill concocts curries here pop with intensity and authenticity. Bone-in goat curry, anyone?
Zabiha Grill is the offshoot of the connected Zabiha Market (a 6-year-old retail business) that in particular specializes in halal meat butchered and prepared in accordance with Islamic law. The grill is about 2 years old, the efforts of Farukh Qazi, a chap who triples as waiter, cook and storyteller.
There's something refreshing about being asked after placing an order: "That will be 20 minutes, is that OK?" In addition to halal, the primary order of the day at Zabiha Grill is home-style Indian and Pakistani cooking, prepared on request by Qazi.
Rifle through an order of the saag paneer tikka masala ($13) and you'll find big chunks of fresh Indian cheese, onions, tomatoes and spinach. Your plate visibly tells the story of what just happened in the kitchen minutes ago under Qazi's watch, not several days ago only to be reheated. Three other curries I keenly tucked away included an eggplant masala ($10), chicken jelfrazee ($13) and bone-in chicken handi ($11) each fabulously flavored, each showing the same tell-tale signs of from-scratch cooking.
Normally I skip chicken tikka masala ($11), a dish as exciting as an exam on the British agrarian revolution of the 17th century (trust me, I've sat it) and whose constituent ingredients in lazier hands tend to be cream, tomato and, why not, more cream. After chatting to Qazi during one meal at Zabiha Grill, he spoke proudly about his past experience of cooking at London's Bombay Palace, which acche says pioneered the dish. While I take such claims with a pinch of cumin seed every other U.K. curry house lays claim to the innovation I couldn't resist biting, and I'm glad I did. Qazi's concoction had a depth of flavor that many imitators around the valley lack; cream was merely used to round out the overall dish.
Entrees at Zabiha Grill come with either rice or naan. My call, mainly due to my insatiable carb-love: Order the basmati and pony up a measly extra $1.25 for a crisp plain naan. The menu affords seven choices of Indian flatbread in total, ranging from garlic naan ($2) to ground beef-stuffed keema naan ($5).
Tandoori chicken is a must for me if there's a tandoor oven hiding out back. The Zabiha Grill rendition of the yogurt and spice marinated dish is offered by the half ($9) or whole bird ($13) and is stellar. The "whole chicken" delivered to our table had me querying my anatomical knowledge of poultry, though a full chicken at Zabiha Grill possessing no fewer than four legs. Four tremendously succulent legs, it should be said, each vibrantly popping in color and aroma. Anatomy schnatomy.
Not that there aren't missteps at Zabiha Grill. Some curries could certainly stand to rein in their oil quotient by some margin. And the lamb burger ($7) I tasted one evening from a curiously interloping selection of burgers was more charcoal briquette than gamey, giddy goodness. A skewer of lamb seekh kabob ($11) was marginally better, but still proved too dry and underspiced.
Halal fried chicken (full chicken $15.99, half chicken $10.99, chicken strips $7.99) didn't suffer the same fate of "East meets West and becomes somewhat confused" and was in fact fairly decent fried chicken. Not completely surprising, given the organic chicken and the fact you can watch Qazi batter and fry your order from scratch.
And that's the reason to stop by Zabiha Grill Qazi's home-cooked cuisine is the perfect reason for West Valley residents to stop trekking across to the east side of the valley for their curry and naan fix.
Stuart Melling also writes at http://www.theutahreview.com and can be found on Twitter @gastronomicslc.
Food • HH
Mood • H
Service • HH
Noise • b
Home-cooked Indian and Pakistani cuisine. Skip the burgers and fries and instead enjoy the terrific from-scratch curries.
Location • 3460 S. Redwood Road Suite 5A, West Valley City; 801-975-1863
Online • http://www.zabihagrillslc.com
Hours • Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m to 9 p.m.
Children's menu • No
Prices • $$
Liquor • No
Corkage • No
Reservations • No
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • No
On-site parking • Yes
Credit cards • Yes