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But we ate it anyway, slathering it on the freshly baked naan and kolcha breads that we'd ordered with our dinners: a mixed tandoori grill for Maria, the lamb-chop tandoori for Leo, and ginger chicken for me. We also shared a dish of haleem ("Very famous in Lahore," Hemayoun assured me later), a beef-and-lentil dish "cooked overnight," according to the menu, "to form a tasty paste."
Paste is the operative word. It's a sticky, greenish-brown concoction that tastes more appetizing than it looks, nicely flavored with ginger and garlic. Still, the consistency was jarring. "A cross between pudding and refried beans," said Leo, who could take only one bite. He was much more interested in the Indian dishes, such as his tandoor-baked chop, which arrived on a white-hot sizzling platter. "But it's more bone than chop," he noted sadly. True, it wasn't the meatiest chop I'd ever seen; it was a little more well-done than the medium-rare he'd requested, and more peppery than spicy.
A well-traveled friend of mine told me that the biggest difference between Indian and Pakistani cuisine is that in Hindu India you can get pork and in Muslim Pakistan you can get beef. (As in Mexico, you can get goat everywhere.) There's no pork on the Kababesh menu, but lamb, chicken, beef, shrimp and goat are in abundance. Muslims aren't too keen on booze, either, and Kababesh Grill isn't serving it, though the owners have applied for a liquor license. Leo and Maria sneakily brought in their own vino, a bottle of chilled Riesling that was a cool counterpoint to the fiery tandoori meats on Maria's white-hot grill platter (chicken tika with shrimp, beef and goat kebabs). But poor Maria, who indulged in Indian appetizers and breads before dinner arrived, was too full to make even a dent and took most of it home. I, on the other hand, greedily ate every bite of the tender pieces of ginger chicken and snagged bites from Leo's and Maria's plates, too.
For dessert, Leo ordered lahori kulfi, an ice cream made with pistachios, almond and saffron. What arrived was half-melted, but Leo bravely dipped his spoon in anyway. "It's not ice cream," he said. "It's frozen soup." It was an interesting alternative to the more familiar sweets on the Kababesh menu, which included traditional Indian rice pudding, kheer, and fried cheese balls, gulab jaman, swimming in sugary syrup. But it wasn't particularly memorable.
A few weeks later, I returned with Bob and Alathea, the vegan. I had promised her there were lots of meatless and dairy-free dishes on the menu, and she ordered the one that sounded the most unusual, benghan bharta, described on the menu as "pulp from charbroiled eggplant sautéed with onions, garlic and fresh tomatoes." The dish, Hemayoun assured me, is "very popular in Pakistan and India." It was with Alathea and me, too. It's visually beautiful: tiny cubes of amber-colored eggplant, onion, peppers and tomato. I liked it just as much as the dinner I chose for myself, kahari, which is another of those recipes that Hemayoun says is beloved on both sides of the India and Pakistan border. Mine was a delicious, fragrant dish of sliced chicken seared in a skillet with ginger, onions, green chiles and cilantro. I spooned it on hunks of flaky paratha bread and ate every bite.
The restaurant's name, Hemayoun told me, refers to all the different kebab offerings on the menu. It's a kebabateria, all right, with tandoor-baked lamb, chicken, shrimp and minced-goat versions listed on the menu. "We sell quite a lot of goat," Hemayoun said. But I couldn't convince Bob to order it. He asked our server (a pretty Reese Witherspoon look-alike) if he could have something with beef. She brought him a sizzling platter heaped with chapli kebabs, grilled spiced-beef patties topped with onion and sliced green peppers served with raita, the milky sauce of yogurt, cucumber and mint that cools the palate after all those head-spinning Indian spices.