Of all the places we've visited over the years, it's Dhaba (999 Albion, 740-6622) -- NOW's 1999 restaurant of the year -- that tops my gastro gang's list of spots that rate a return trip.
Hearing through the grapevine that owner-chef P.K. Singh has added some new creations to his superb lineup of inventive Indian dishes, we're there in a shot.
While my posse are thrilled to be back, I'm a little cautious. Will Dhaba be as fabulous as I remember?
Well, it certainly looks the same, recalling some bizarre bazaar from a Bollywood movie, complete with accordion 'n' sitar soundtrack. And P.K.'s as personable as ever.
Any trepidation dissolves with the first taste of ground-lamb naan ($3.95), a sensational tandoor-fired flatbread stuffed with meat, hellfire chilies and coriander, all sprinkled with oven-roasted sesame seeds.
Offsetting the fire, this outstanding starter gets cooled with a dollop of sweet homemade yogurt laced with dried mint. A stunning combination!
Fish Tikka ($9.95) is equally impressive. Fiery red cubes of baby shark (!) get seared by the tandoor's intense heat and are then brought to the table on a bed of crisp cumin-enhanced Asian slaw. Some may be put off by the idea of eating shark, but the meaty fish recalls the tenderest veal. Another triumph.
I'm not exactly knocked out by Palak Kofta ($8.95), a trio of so-so lamb meatballs swimming in spinach puree. Not that there's anything to fault, but it pales next to Singh's other plates.
In the interest of culinary science, we order a few of the dishes with medium spicing rather than pedal-to-the-metal heat. A mistake. It's like asking a virtuoso to tone down his or her artistry. The gang agree that Dhaba works best when the kitchen throws caution to the wind.