“This is a multicultural city. Everyone says I’m American. It’s beautiful. We love New York. You have different people from different backgrounds, and we can live together.”
“If you live in New York,” he added, “You miss nothing.”
The cook turned cabbie – who was born in Karachi, raised in Lahore, Pakistan and now lives with his wife and two kids in Astoria, Queens – was a little less enthusiastic when I quizzed him about his favorite place to eat.
“Home,” he said.
I pressed him. Though we agreed on the virtues of home cooking, after twenty years of driving a cab in New York, surely he must know where else to find good things to eat?
“Haandi,” he said.
Though a certain Mr. Chaudary had brought me to this Pakistani restaurant on Curry Hill a couple of months ago, I liked the idea of going back and trying something different. (Between the taxi adventures and my short attention span, I rarely get a chance to go to the same restaurant twice.)
So I didn’t object when Kadri dropped off my co-adventurer Dan and me at Haandi. The cabbie told us he always orders ‘dry’ dishes like tandoori chicken or chicken tikka – and skips the curries that he can make at home.
Somewhere between the taxi and the behind-the-counter buffet, we let go of Kadri’s advice. Both of us ordered the $8 meat combination platter, which includes two meats, one vegetable, naan, raita, iceberg lettuce with cucumber and tomato, and basmati rice.
I ended up with chicken makhani (butter chicken), beef curry and stewed long squash. Dan chose chicken makhani, chicken karahi and some yellow lentils with ginger that turned out to be the highlight of the meal.
Unfortunately, everything except Dan’s lentils fell flat. Even the chicken mahkani – an irresistible mix of butter and spice on my first visit to Haandi – was reduced to subdued.
The cabbie did say he didn’t eat the curries, Dan reminded me. Right he was. I ordered a piece of tandoori chicken ($4), failing to stop the lady behind the counter before she microwaved it into a dry piece of forgettable meat that no amount of spice could resuscitate.
I’m not sure what happened to the cooks at Haandi, but I’d like to think they were having a bad day on Monday. I’d also like to think that someday I’ll get back into Kadri Sayed’s cab – and that maybe I can persuade him to take me to his house for curry.
113 Lexington Ave (at 28th St.), Murray Hill
Open daily 10am-12am
Photo by Dan Perlman