In my ongoing quest to unearth spice, there was a massive oversight on my part with regard to the aromatics taste department.
Hot dang Dabbang
While Gran Dabbang Café has been open for the best part of a year now, it’s taken me the best part of a year to get to this Indian-style eatery for a spice sweat and a little tongue numbing.
Was it worth the wait? Damn it, I’ll be headed back on a weekly basis from now on for the flavours and the aromas.
But it’s not just about the need for a heat kick. This husband-and-wife team comprising Argentine Mariano Ramón and Brit missus Philippa are getting it right in the aromatics department – perfect for the local clientele and pretty damn good for that demanding foreign palette craving more than chimichurri.
You need to arrive early. Or late. That’s 8.15pm or 11ish, though they might run out of daily dishes later on, so I hear.
Secure seating. I’m usually an advocate for communal dining but flying solo at this shared table and thereby being privy to the benefits of a snooze button on one’s mobile phone from next door was a tedious reminder about why dining alone can truly suck.
It’s a cutely cramped space for around 28 diners including a comfy-looking sofa, not too noisy thanks to the high ceiling but certainly bustling, not overly fussy, with a handful of movie posters featuring Hindi action-masala flick Dabangg. The hungry, anxious for a table, mill in and out and by 8.45pm the queue outside was about 12-strong. The only other places you tend to see a line are Club Eros, Don Julio and La Cabrera.
And it’s the masala aspect that sums up this eatery: it’s a spice mix. Gran Dabbang’s menu is tweaked with relative frequency – the three platitos or starters for sharing (40, 45 pesos) were given the once over just last week. But it’s Pan-Asian rather than strictly Indian with a hint of Latin flair, given that the quail laksa (80 pesos) has its roots in Malaysia and Singapore; lamb curry (85 pesos) is that rather than a full-on spicy bomb of a Rogan Josh; while mbejú originates from Paraguay.
The price is wicked good – so much so that if you order just one mid-size dish (read as a main, more or less), you can get change from 100 pesos (remember those days, dear readers?). Two medianos saw me right, but the best way to savour the flavours is to go en masse and order pretty much everything to share.
And the menu features plenty of veggie fare. Think plantain and chickpea falafel teamed up with a panka chili jam (70 pesos) and Swiss chard pakora (65 pesos), drizzled with sriracha sauce and raita, and supported by a fresh and crunch carrot chutney bursting with flavour, dish one of the evening. Heat, plus spice, plus cooling raita plus chard; this fried dish seems positively brimming with health.
I went with the meaty lamb cuzza as my second dish. Do bear in mind that this might look like a small portion, but it’s pretty damn hearty given that it comes with two poppadoms and naan-style bread as well as other bits. Although Mariano admitted they aren’t making the poppadoms themselves, who cares? They were perfect, crunchy, delicious and ideal for dipping into the lamb’s tomato and black cardamom sauce, then mixing it in with the yogurt and topping up with a little coconut chutney and coriander. Haven’t had a poppadom for a while. This sauce was aromatics in motion, with a little heat but sufficient rounded, flavour wise, to feel sated.
My only complaint is that almost half the lamb was covered in fat while one chunk was gristle. While 85 pesos is a great price, and obviously this meat is known for its high fat content, I’d rather have had even fewer pieces of fat-free flesh then swallow an abundance of lardiness in the search for flavour. Note that this dish comes with bread rather than basmati rice.
Despite the fatty deposits, the flavours were refreshing, and also welcome — but then the good folk queuing outside already know that.
Gran Dabbang Café
Scalabrini Ortiz 1543, Palermo
Tel: 011 4832-1186
Buenos Aires Herald, May 17, 2015
Ph: Pick Up The Fork, SMW