Aslam's Rasoi, at 1037 Valencia Street.

I always forget how much I love Indian food. In the nine years Aslam’s Rasoi has been open, I’ve been only one other time, probably eight years ago. Shame, as we’ve been missing out on some stellar Northern Indian/Pakistani food right in the neighborhood.

Chef and owner Mohammed Aslam had already worked all over the city for many years when he decided to open his own place. “Rasoi” means kitchen, and so, with his wonderfully cheery son, Asif, working front of house and as a server, this truly is an Aslam family affair.

On our first night, our server, a charming Nepalese young man and old family friend of the Aslams, explained that one of the main differences between the two cuisines, although there is a great deal of overlap, is that Pakistani food is heavier spiced – not necessarily hotter, but with more spicing.

While I adore food that packs a flavor punch, I couldn’t resist the lamb tandoori that I saw on a nearby table, so I went with that for my entrée. I was not disappointed.

As a starter, however, we ordered the cauliflower pakoras – fried cauliflower in chickpea batter, which made them extra crispy and delicious. The pakoras come in many variations – eggplant, fish, calamari, mixed vegetables and chicken.

Pakoras.

I was completely happy with our choice. They were served with the typical tamarind chutney and mint/cilantro yogurt sauce you see on most Indian restaurant’s tables, which give you sweet/salty/spicy/cooling sensations in each bite. Addictive.

My chops were absolutely luscious. Wonderful depth of flavor from the tandoori masala – a blend of garam masala (a spice mix), garlic, ginger, onion, cayenne pepper, and sometimes other spices – which is mixed into plain yogurt. The meat is smothered in this paste, sits in the marinade, and then is baked at high heat in a clay oven (a tandoor). Brought out on a sizzling hot plate, my lamb was a perfect medium rare, juicy, and tender.

Tandoori

The BF went for a curry, the spicy chicken madras.

Chicken madras, chutney, and pickle.

There are so many different types of curries in India and Pakistan, it would take until the end of time to describe them all, and every restaurant and home cook has their own personal spice blend for each one of them. Best to just get busy and start trying them all. The madras curry is made with coconut milk and golden raisins, and was deliciously creamy, with an almost nutty flavor. The chicken was extremely tender. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very spicy (I don’t think they ever believe we can handle it when we say, “Please make it hot!”), and while we felt the portion of chicken was rather small, it was a very good dish. I’d certainly order it again. We also ordered a mango chutney (a fruity, slightly spiced mango sauce) and the achar pachranga, a spicy mixed pickle with mangoes, carrots, lemons, chilis, and lotus roots. I love the hot, tangy, slightly bitter and astringent flavors in this pickle. My favorite thing about Indian food is that you seem to be constantly adding flavors that complement each other rather than cancel each other out, or become muddled.

Aromatic basmati rice is always good to cool the palate….

Basmati rice.

And naan, of course: Indian flat bread. Aslam’s offers a variety of naan preparations, some of them stuffed with lamb or goat cheese, but we went with the plain. On this visit we felt we weren’t served enough naan to sop up all the delicious juices on our plates; of course, you can order more but it isn’t free. Still, we left for once not feeling overstuffed, but sated and yearning for more…

The space itself is expansive, yet warm and inviting, with hand-painted table tops and a large bar offering a good selection of wine and beer. You can also watch Chef Aslam in action through the kitchen window.

The interior of Aslam.
The kitchen at Aslam – you can just see the chef’s arm hovering over the flames.

Our second visit was on a Saturday night and we were lucky enough to have Asif Aslam as our server. A bubbly young man, Asif talked to us about the art of making puri – the puffy, deep-fried Indian bread. The BF has made it at home, and we were dying to see if his looked anything like Chef Aslam’s. Asif asked us if our dough was very thick. We said no, and he said that was good, as thick dough would make us ill. Alas, when Chef Aslam’s puri came out, we had to admit our dough was much thicker.

His were beautiful, almost translucent golden globes, crispy and light, still hot from the oil. Fantastic.

Puri.

Our food all came out at almost the same time, which was fine in this instance as we were happy to tear into the puri and use it to scoop up the curries.

This visit, I ordered a Pakistani curry, the karahi gosht – lamb cooked in butter, ginger, garlic, and spices. A lovely complex dish, gingery, deeply lamb-y, though not quite spicy enough for me – (even Asif doesn’t believe us!) but wonderful nonetheless.

Lamb ghosht.

The BF ordered chicken vindaloo, and I think we both loved his dish just a tad more (if they had lamb vindaloo here, I’d be in heaven). I’m a fan of vindaloos in general – a Goan specialty that shares its roots with a Portuguese dish of vinegar-marinated pork – as they tend to be a bit more fiery.  Aslam’s comes with potatoes, so it’s quite a hearty dish.

Chicken vindaloo.

We also shared a variation of one of my all-time favorite Indian dishes, palak paneer, a spinach puree dish with cubes of homemade pressed Indian cheese (paneer). The dish is such a comforting one, mildly spiced with garam masala and garlic. The saag paneer on offer at Aslam’s is similar, but comes with fenugreek greens in the puree as well, which gives the dish just a very slight sweetness. Very flavorful, and a homey dish that begs to be scooped up with puri or naan.

Sag paneer.

Aslam’s isn’t your typical hole in the wall, and thus their prices are a little higher than you might expect. But for this level of high quality Indian food, with the freshness of the ingredients, the obvious care that Mohammed puts into each dish, and the warm welcome of his family and staff, Aslam’s is well worth it.

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