Kabob’s: Beyond the Weekday Lunch Thali (Bloomington, MN)

Late last year I posted a couple of reviews of lunches I’d eaten at Kabob’s in Bloomington (here and here). Those were the best Indian meals I’d yet eaten in Minnesota, I said; indeed, I went so far as to say that I’d be happy to eat those meals in India as well. Having just got back from four weeks in India, I’ll admit that last is slightly hyperbolic—there are far better South Indian thali meals to be had even in Delhi, which is not exactly in South India. But only slightly hyperbolic. It would be far from the best South Indian restaurant in Delhi (and yes, I know “South Indian” is an overly general category) but it would do well enough. I say this with confidence because a couple of weeks before leaving for Delhi I finally ate a non-thali meal there with some friends, and I can tell you that the weekday thalis aren’t the only reason to eat there.

There were six of us (none of whom were the missus or the brats, who’d abandoned me for Los Angeles). We showed up for an early lunch on a chilly Saturday in late December and ate a good slice of the menu. Not everything we ate was very good; some of it was just okay, and a couple of things were a bit sad. On the whole, however, the meal was again far better than those I’ve eaten at any other Indian restaurant in the Twin Cities Metro.

(If you haven’t already, do read my thoughts on the evolution of the Indian food scene in the area. The professional reviewers remain focused on splashier places but it’s at places like Kabob’s that Indian food in the area is actually reflecting the tastes of the growing Indian population.)

What did we eat? We completely eschewed the North Indian items on the menu. They may well be good here but the Chettinad, Andhra and Kerala dishes are what distinguish them from most of the curry houses in town. From the Appetizers section of the menu we got an order of the medhu vada (decent) and the two versions of chicken 65 that they serve: the drier Chennai style (very good) and the stickier Hyderabad style (even better). We also got an order of the prawns ghee roast from the specials menu (good). For mains we got the following: pepper chicken (very good);  natu kodi (another chicken dish, even better); Malabar fish curry (it’s usually made with tilapia but they readily agreed to make it for us with kingfish; it was very good indeed); mutton chukka (very good); fried eggplant curry (excellent); tadka dal (solid); thalapakattu chicken biryani (a mild biryani in a style I’d not heard of before but I can tell you it’s bloody good). Alas, the two other things we ate were not very good: the Kerala-style chicken stew was watery and insipid and the appams that came with them were rather amateurish. Still they didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the meal as a whole.

Take a look at the slideshow below (all I have are pictures of the food; for a look at the space and the menu, click on the link above to my first report). Then scroll down for thoughts on service, price/value and the meal as a whole.

We asked for everything to be made at the appropriate heat setting and the hot dishes, particularly the pepper chicken, packed quite a kick. Though the Malabar fish curry was very good, I’m inclined to say—based on the quality of the appams and chicken stew—that the Chettinad and Andhra dishes here are probably a better bet than the Kerala/Malayali ones. More research will be needed to confirm this.

The aestheric of space remains in the utilitarian zone—it is not going to win any awards for design or comfort anytime soon. But you should really look past that given the quality of the food. Service was friendly, accommodating and informative. The bill came to about $210 with tax and tip, which might seem like a lot for six people. But this was a lot of food for six people—despite the fact that two of the six were strapping young men with capacious appetites. It’s true we accidentally ordered two of the naatu kodi but it would have been enough food for 10 hungry adults regardless (we took a lot of leftovers home). That would put the true per head cost at $21/head. That would put it on par with our dinner at Persis and a bit lower than our dinner at Bay Leaf (both in Eagan) but this was a far superior meal than both. I will be more than happy to go back and try more of their menu.

Coming up from the Twin Cities Metro next week: another South Metro report. But there’ll be another Delhi report or two before that.


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