5185 Transit Road, Clarence NY 14221
Web: Kabab & Curry
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Clarence Indian Pakistani
"Though we'd love to see more competition in the sadly underserved Indian category, Kabab & Curry does a great job - we'd feel comfortable if it was the only option."
Once upon a time, the famous Tandoori restaurants dominated the high-end of Western New York's Indian dining scene, dazzling diners with spicy meals and silver-flecked gulab jamun desserts. Now the local crown belongs to Transit Road's Kabab & Curry, which adds a few Pakistani dishes to the standard list of Indian favorites, but won our favor by consistently doing the spectrum of traditional Indian dishes proud. Though its garlic and vegetable-infused breads could stand to be more flavorful, the remainder of its dishes should never be accused of lacking for authenticity, as everything from the spicy Karahi and Jalfrezi items to its Indian curries and Tikka Masalas come out tasting perfect.
The Story: Years ago, Kabab & Curry opened its doors in a small, two-restaurant plaza on Transit near Maple, replacing two Chinese restaurants that had previously occupied the space, one quite memorably offering some of the area's best fare. Our first visit to the freshly opened Kabab & Curry was pleasant rather than fantastic, but in the many intervening years that have passed since then, both the menu and the cooking have improved. There's a buffet that we haven't tried, despite becoming all but obsessed with Indian buffets out in Southern California, and that should tell you something: we're not willing to pay extra for similar foods at dinner time unless we're extremely impressed with the quality. Here, we've always been impressed, though the dinner prices are on par with most Indian places - a bit more expensive than, say, a comparable Chinese meal. As an offset, Kabab & Curry offers free Wi-Fi Internet access, an added reason to stop by during lunchtime for a meal with your laptop.
Highs: Arguably its least traditional offering, the restaurant's Seekh Kabab Sampler ($6) comes with a staggeringly tasty, lick-the-plate-quality spicy red tomato sauce that we've had and loved in Chinese and Japanese restaurants as well. Inside the sauce are peppers, onions, and bite-sized juicy pieces of chicken, shaped almost like ringlets, and lacking only in one sense - though the price is fairly reasonable for the quantity, you'll wish you had twice as many.
Traditionalists can't go wrong with the Lamb Karahi ($17), however; named for the mini wok-like vessel that it's typically cooked in, this spicy, ginger and tomato-heavy dish lets you taste both lamb and the intense sauce, playing off of each other. Shrimp, beef, and chicken versions are also available. As spice fans, we're also very partial to the Jalfrezi dishes ($16), which use a spicy, thin Pakistani red sauce to add incredible heat to your choice of meats.
Thankfully, Kabab and Curry actually takes your spice requests seriously, offering virtually any dish with as little or as much kick as you want; we prefer the extra spice, but have not heard complaints from those who have ordered less powerful concoctions. Milder, similar dishes such as the Chicken Tikka Masala ($13) or Chicken Makhani ($13) offer creamier tomato sauces, the Masala leaning sweet and the Makhani buttery. An oven-baked dish, the Chicken Tandoori ($11-17), is there for those who don't like sauces; it has been cooked to preserve the natural moistness of the chicken, and comes out glowing red from the baked-in yogurt coating.
For dessert, the Ras Malai ($4) - a sweet, syrupy cream sauce broth that soaks two cold pressed coins made from sweet cheese, garnished in pistachios - is close to textbook here, not mindblowing but consistently good. Described on most Indian restaurant menus, it isn't the sort of item that easily frightened diners would order, but it rewards the adventurous with a combination of unique texture and unmitigated sweetness that we find ourselves craving. Those looking for something similar, either during the meal or afterwards, should try the Mango Lassi, a fruit-flavored yogurt milkshake that is equal parts addictive and filling, or a similar ice cream ($3), sorbet ($4).
The service has also been consistently friendly and impressive in our many meals at this restaurant. While the servers may vary from meal to meal, we've never once felt poorly treated, and even when the crowds grow here, the wait staff manages to make individual tables feel important, earning better tips and more respect from us than many other local places.
Lows: Beyond its flat Naan breads ($2 plain, $4 flavored), which are a la carte and could benefit from more garlic or onions, Kabab & Curry could stand to offer complimentary chutneys ($2) and pickled Achar ($2) as enticements. Having dined at the restaurant with Indians and non-Indians, we think that a super-simplified starter menu for less adventurous diners (read: most non-Indians) would also help, as we continue to be surprised at some diners' reflexive fear of all things Indian. The name alone will frighten some potential visitors off, given how many Western New Yorkers have been raised in fear of the word "curry;" they shouldn't think twice about coming in and giving something here a try.
The Verdict: From where we stand, the choice between Kabab & Curry and Tandoori used to lean in favor of the latter, but these days, Kabab & Curry completely dominates the local Indian restaurant scene. Though we'd love to see more competition for this sadly underserved category of food, which has seen many of its best local establishments decline over the years, this one does such a great job that we'd feel comfortable if it was the only strong option. It's consistently delicious, and highly recommended.