After he’d performed a tango to “Quejas de Bandoneón” for what must have been the thousandth time, I asked my tango teacher if he ever got tired of dancing to the same song.
“Never,” he said, “Every dance is different. The orchestra is different. My mood is different, my partner’s, too. The way my shoes pick up the moisture on the floor is different. Every tango is its own.”
So is every taxi adventure. I’ve lost track of how many random cabs I’ve gotten into over the past three going on four years, but every time my enthusiasm starts to flag, every time I start wondering if cabbies really are the best source of restaurant recommendations, I meet taxi drivers like Alam, who lead me to places I’d have a hard time finding on my own.
Last week, when my co-adventurer Cassie and I hopped into Alam’s taxi in Union Square on a frigid New York night, we didn’t tell him what we were up to right off the bat.
As he whipped around the block to get us pointed in the right direction of our (false) destination at 59th and Lex, he told us he’d been driving a taxi six nights a week for the past 12 years. Before that, he’d bussed tables at Olive Garden.
“Driving the taxi is better,” he said, “No boss.”
As a former busser myself, I agreed with him.
Before making the big move to New York, Alam lived in a small town outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh. His favorite foods are the dishes he remembers from home.
When he’s on duty and hungry for dinner (around midnight), the cabbie swings by Curry in a Hurry or the Famous Halal Guys at 53rd St. and 6th Avenue for some of New York’s best street meat. If he has a little more time, he stops at a new all-you-can-eat $8 Bangladeshi buffet called Larosh on E. 29th St.
Larosh is where Alam delivered us, after he turned off the meter, waited 10 minutes for a parking space, walked in and introduced us to owner Mohammed Kashem, who drove a taxi for 22 years before he opened the restaurant – which delivers food to cabbies who can’t find parking and “has a nice clean place for prayer.”
Alam led us to the buffet, making sure we were happy with what we saw before grabbing a cup of coffee to go.
We filled our plates with fried okra, tandoori chicken stew, goat biryani, spinach, peas and potatoes. Only after he made sure we got fresh slabs of naan did the cabbie go back to his shift. It was too early for him to eat dinner.
One taste of very salty okra and I realized we were feasting at the Bangladeshi equivalent of a greasy spoon. One taste of biryani and it was hard for me to pay attention to the rest of what was on my plate – the rice was beautifully seasoned, sweetened with carrots, united around goat fat.
Then came naan – feather-light, just made and probably the best I’ve tasted in New York to date. This was bread that overshadowed and elevated the flavor of everything it scooped up.
“After 9 or 10, it’s all cab drivers,” Mohammed said. On Fridays and Saturdays, it’s even more crowded.
Still on a naan high, we paid our $8 and almost walked out the door when I spotted something in the refrigerator case. I was so excited I couldn’t put a sentence together
“Is that – ? I’ll take one please. You have to taste this,” I told Cassie.
The last time I’d tasted sweet dhodi was after a long ride on the F train to Sagar Sweets & Restaurant in Jamaica. The dessert, more commonly known as mishti doi or lal dahi (“red yogurt”) is made with caramelized sweetened condensed milk (an Asian riff on dulce de leche) and a combination of plain yogurt and evaporated milk that adds richness and a back beat of tart.
We spooned and sighed – Larosh’s sweet dhodi ($6 for a 1-pound tub, which comes from Bappy Sweets in Elmhurst) wasn’t as custard-rich as Sagar’s – but it was good enough to make me smile at the thought of being able to swing by and get my fix on duty.
Larosh – Map it
37 E. 29th St. (between Park & Madison) – Midtown East
Open: 7 days, 11am-4am
Free delivery (especially for cabbies who can’t find parking)
Prices: $8, all-you-can-eat-buffet; $5.99, chicken or goat biryani (+ free soda & salad); $6, sweet yogurt