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Food & Drink

Mustafa Cuisine elevates overlooked dishes into a rich stew

Photo: Veronica Luna, License: N/A

Veronica Luna

Gobi Mawchuria (cauliflower in Manchurian sauce) from Mustafa Cuisine.


Mustafa has been hiding in plain sight for some time now — at least from me. Located next to an Indian/Pakistani/Indo-Chinese grocery store of the same name and persuasion, the upstairs restaurant is entered up the hill and behind a small shopping strip on Medical Drive; I’ve driven by it several times without paying any attention. Shame on me, for this is a place that deserves investigation.

My first experience was with the inevitable lunchtime buffet; can’t beat it, might as well eat it. And despite some disappointments — the bland saag paneer (cheese and creamy spinach) and a listless chickpea curry among them — there were also some surprises. Pakoras in a rich sauce were at least something new to contemplate (conclusion: yes); a dish of bell pepper and potato supplied both spice and flavor; fried okra may have been fibrous, but the taste was very good indeed; there was a very punchy soup sporting a vegetable I couldn’t pin down (the store next door might provide a clue); and among the condiments there were a fierce and chewy pickle and a mild but more than mildly exotic coconut chutney. And, as often happens when Indo/Pakistani food is on the agenda, goat, in this case a spicy/fragrant curry blessed with a minimum of bones, won the day.

You can order from the regular menu at lunch — though not without effort and the possibility of a menu mixup. A large group of men in traditional garb (the women tend to sit separately) was doing just that to celebrate the end of Ramadan on my second visit. And, wouldn’tcha know it, goat haleem was the special. Haleem, a kind of stew, is traditional during this period of fasting, but there’s nothing abstemious about it: the flavors are full, rich, fragrant, spicy, herbal, earthy… I could go on, but only really need mention that it’s also on the regular menu — in a chicken version as one for the goat phobic.

But pre goat we had some sensational cauliflower. No American kid will ever believe this — nor will more than a few adults — but these battered and fried florets served with a very complex sweet-sour Manchurian sauce were crazy good. They bested the chile pakoras whose coating kept slipping off, and they nearly eclipsed a dry but beautifully scented biriyani. Do not resist offers of naans and parathas.

But if you should happen to order the methi chicken, do let me know what you get. It’s said to feature fenugreek leaves and boneless fowl, but our charming waiter (he’s called Mustafa as is the guy at the register) made mention of goat (again) mixed into a dal. I couldn’t detect either critter, but did enjoy the gravy-like dish, especially after adding lemon. Yet I remain perplexed.

Nothing for it but to return — though not necessarily to try the fried goat brains; my goat fixation only goes so far. But fermented lentil dosas for sure. And maybe a Goan fish curry.•

 

Mustafa Cuisine

4085 Medical Dr
(210) 615-7861
mustafarestaurant.com

 

The Skinny
Indo-everything (Chinese, Indian, Pakistani) with, yes, a decent buffet and an even better wide-ranging menu.

 

Best Bets
Get anything goat, then go for cauliflower and spicy dals.

 

Hours
Lunch daily 11am-3pm,
dinner daily 5-10pm

 

Prices $4.99-$14.99

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