Tandoori chicken, is there a more abused dish in all of Indian cuisine? With its tangy and savory approach to what is too often the dullest white meat, it has come to represent the unique, richly spiced promise of South Asian cooking—which is no doubt why it’s laid out like bait at practically every Indian buffet.
Unfortunately, as anyone who has dived into enough of those buffets knows, it all too often fails to live up to that promise. When too dry or too bland, this clay-oven specialty can taste way too much like actual clay.
That’s why the tandoori chicken at Kabab & Curry’s is so addictive. It’s so moist and tender, and practically falls off the bone, without being at all greasy. The spice hits the tongue in clusters—smoky here, tangy there, complementing the flavor of the chicken rather than overwhelming it.
After a couple of bites, it’s hard to stop, from one piece to the next, to the next, and so on. I found myself driven not only by the sensual satisfaction of experiencing tandoori chicken prepared exactly the way it’s supposed to be done but also by the palpable fear that I was never going to get it this good again. Perhaps after a certain number of trips through their lunch buffet line, this fear subsides. I have not hit that number yet.
It may seem strange to suggest that tandoori chicken is the absolutely-must-have-at-any-cost item on this particular menu. After all, isn’t there some unwritten rule that says that if a restaurant puts a certain dish in its name, that has to be their specialty? But in this case, it’s not so strange—the tandoori chicken comes from the same tandoor oven as the kebab, which is also excellent. Perhaps it’s just that great kebab is so much easier to find, especially in the South Bay.
As for curries, even those who think they know Indian cuisine pretty well will find some surprises. In many cases, the names are the same, but the dishes will make diners do a double take. For those who are used to seeing their chicken tikka masala arrive at the table so orange it practically glows, Kabab & Curry’s version will be puzzling at first. Darker, heartier and less sweet, this tikka masala is like the comfort-food version and something of a revelation. Other curries, to a lesser extent, will inspire that same feeling in Indian food lovers, as if they’re slightly altered takes on familiar tastes.
Their mouths aren’t playing tricks on them. In fact, Kabab & Curry’s is different by design, a fusion of Indian and Pakistani culinary traditions, which accounts for some of the differences. It’s a halal restaurant, meaning that the meat is prepared in accordance with Islamic law, and with a mosque at the end of the block, there are a number of Muslim diners.
Once again, though, Kabab & Curry’s is a mix—lunch brings everyone from tech geeks to retirees to hip foodies, and dinner lures in a multicultural mix of families and couples. There’s a casual vibe to this place; occupying a bit of unassuming real estate on the corner of a residential block, it seems to have more neighborhood cred than most Silicon Valley spots. Or maybe I was just relieved to see a small but outstanding South Bay restaurant that’s not in a strip mall.
The only thing lacking in Kabab & Curry’s approach is its limited menu. There are no appetizers and only three kabobs. Still, vegetarians will find numerous options here, like the zesty kadi pakora and the aloo palak, a spinach and potato dish in which the former is particularly fresh. (It’s also good in the lamb saag.) As long as that tandoor oven is firing on all cylinders—or the radiant-heat equivalent, anyway—Kabab & Curry’s will be an essential Indian dining experience in the South Bay.