Sunday, April 4, 2010

Savoy Restaurant and Grocery

11248 S. Wilcrest

We have a lot of Indian and Pakistani restaurants in Houston including some very excellent ones. I'm a little more familiar with the Pakistani places, of which there are probably fewer, owing in part to Chef Kaiser Lashkari's excellent Himalaya. My experiences there have spurred me to explore that cuisine further to the neglect of Indian places.

Besides the well known Little India area around Hillcroft and the Southwest Freeway, Indian and Pakistani restaurants are scattered all over the city with another concentration in the area around West Bellfort, Wilcrest and the Southwest Freeway, very close to my home.

Along a one block stretch of West Bellfort between 59 and Wilcrest are two Desi game rooms/snack bars, Salaam Namaste and Alfa Capri, plus a new sweets and chaat shop, Sweet n' Namkin. Around the corner on Wilcrest, in a shopping center next to the Bansuri Indian Food truck that I reported on 14 months ago, is Savoy, a Pakistani restaurant and grocery, and just south of 59 on Wilcrest/Murphy Rd. is Aga's, another Pakistani place. Just off 59 and Bissonnet is La Sani, a Pakistani buffet, and further out, just outside the Beltway on Bissonnet is Mehfil Grill, another Desi game room/snack bar.

I have now eaten at all of these at least once and this is the first of several reports.

Savoy is a counter-service restaurant and is larger and a little nicer than the average hole-in-the-wall Houston ethnic restaurant. There are large tables and over-sized booths in addition to four-seaters; food is served on disposable plates with disposable tableware. So far, I have always gotten my food to go. This works well for everything except the naan which doesn't fare well wrapped up in foil for even just the few minutes to get home, so I've only had the naan once here. Rice and naan are extra and they do prompt you to order some.

On my first visit I tried Chicken Chilli, some naan and a samosa. Chicken Chilli is one of my favorite dishes (much better than 'white' chili as served in US restaurants!) and this was very good with both white and dark meat though not as hot as some versions I've had, and quite oily. The naan was not bad, considering being wrapped up in foil but the real winner on this outing was the samosa, larger than most at about 6 oz versus 4 to 4.5 at most places, and stuffed with the most interestingly seasoned filling of potatoes, maybe a few peas and garlic, I think, plus green and red chilli powders and cilantro as best I could determine. This has become one of my go-to orders at Savoy and I get one every time I go in. Though I have yet to get one absolutely freshly made when ordered, they've always been good and warm, unlike some places where they've been sitting out for hours.

I was very enthused about the quality and taste of the food here and went back a few days later for another order, this time I went for the Qorma Goat, another favorite dish (I have several). Once again it was apparent the food here is quite oily and though it wasn't that noticeable in my first order, I realized the condiments - onions, julienned ginger and cilantro - are sometimes less than primo.

On yet another visit I went for the Beef Nihari.

Besides the Nihari in the picture is some Masala Naan (spicy) from the adjoining grocery store and a salted jeera biscuit, i.e., cumin cookie. I had Beef Nihari at Sabri Nihari on Hillcroft in my very first visit to a Pakistani restaurant and it blew me away. It's an awesome dish, something I have to try at every Pakistani restaurant sooner or later, although I haven't ever gotten around to ordering it at Himalaya, and I've never found a better version than Sabri's. It is sometimes described as the Pakistani version of pot roast, consisting mainly of beef shoulder or shank with the marrow bone included, cooked for hours with spices to produce a thick, hearty gravy and melt-in-your-mouth meat. I have suggested on message boards before, however, that it's really more like chili in that it is neither cooked nor served with vegetables but is just meat and spices; this is usually met with scorn but I persist. Savoy's version, in which the meat is cut up in cubes instead of served in large chunks, makes the comparison even more obvious, at least to me.

While okay the Savoy version was a little disappointing, not as good as other versions I've had.

One way to get around the oiliness of the food is to order from the grilled section of the menu and on another visit I ordered the Chicken Boti. I'd had this before on the very good Pakistani buffet at La Sani and liked it but Savoy's version kicks it up a couple of notches, to cop a phrase. Chunks of skinless and boneless chicken breast are seasoned with chillis, yogurt, garlic, ginger and other spices and then grilled or cooked in a tandoor. This was by far the spiciest thing I've had at Savoy and I loved it. My sinuses loosened up, my eyes watered just a bit: I have a new favorite dish. On this visit also I tried another snack, aloo vara, what would be called a batata wada in India. It consists of mashed potatoes, peas and onions, I think, mixed with spices, battered and deep fried. It's similar to a samosa except that the potatoes are mashed instead of being a chunk of boiled potato and the coating is a chickpea flour batter which results in a bread-like dough instead of the pie-dough like crust of a samosa. This was very good, with a good heat level itself, but I prefer the flaky crust and interior texture of the samosas. Either way, Savoy does Pakistani fried snacks very well. I still have not been able to try the egg rolls or patties on the menu.

Besides the restaurant Savoy is a Pakistani grocery store and I always take the time to browse the store while waiting for my order in the restaurant. They have a variety of fresh, refrigerated and frozen breads, the fresh selection as often as not depleted, the most well stocked meat cases of Halal meats I've seen, a long wall of freezer cases with scads of frozen entrees, sides and desserts, including ice cream and kulfi, a Pakistani frozen custard treat. There are large bags of basmati rice and atta, spice mixes for home preparation of complicated dishes, jellies, curries and sauces and syrups, even a small fresh produce section with a couple of vegetables I've not seen elsewhere, though I can't recall their names.

Besides the samosa from the restaurant, one item I regularly buy here are the salted jeera biscuits - cumin cookies. Think of a pecan sandie minus the pecans and with crushed cumin seeds for flavoring. I've also tried several of the frozen deserts, a Pista (pistachio) and Malai (clotted cream with a hint of cardamom) kulfis and Tutti Frutti ice cream. Both the kulfis were good, though not as good as the kulfi I got around the corner recently at Sweet n' Namkin on West Bellfort.

I've also enjoyed the Tea Rusks and Masala Khari, 'Crispy Tea Time Treats,' pastry puffs with a slight hint of cumin, also. I confess, I am a cumin junkie.

Savoy does a booming business. Besides the restaurant and grocery store, there is a banquet room seating as many as 700. On two occasions when I've been the restaurant menu has been limited somewhat by the fact the kitchen was overwhelmed with either a large take-out catering order or a banquet. I've known about the restaurant for a couple of years but put off going; on more than one occasion I've intended to go but the prospect of finding a parking space was daunting. One time recently, on a Sunday, cars were parked two deep on the end of rows, making navigating very difficult and making it impossible for cars parked perpendicular to the rows to get out of their spaces; on the day before there was literally no place to park, not one single space.

There is a large menu board over the counter where you order and copies of the menu you can pick up to peruse but neither have prices. Another copy of the menu, in a stand-up plastic frame, off to the right, is the only one that includes prices. A Halal food certificate is displayed behind the counter.


Anonymous said...

Do they make their own kulfi or what brand do they serve?

Bruce said...

Sorry I don't know what they serve in the restaurant. In the grocery store I think they had 2 brands in the freezer. I took some Reena's, mainly because they were available in the 1/2 cup individual portions so I could try several flavors.