Serious Eats: Chicago
Burnin' Down the House in Chicago, Pakistani Osso Bucco-Style
It seems like every year one of my favorite Pakistani restaurants burns down. Two years ago it was Khan BBQ, my favorite spot to grab green chili slathered charcoal tandoor fired chicken boti. The fire turned what was once a dingy smoky cabbie joint, thick with smoke from poor ventilation, into a relatively elegant peach colored banquet hall with a chandelier that would be at home in the Taj Mahal.
Last year, apparently due to faulty wiring, my other go-to spot, Sabri Nihari, burned down. Unlike Khan BBQ, the new incarnation, a narrow El car-wide corridor of a restaurant outfitted with more mirrors than a ballet studio, is a step down from the old, pure white Liberace-like garishness of the old spot. The owners assured me this was a temporary location, though it's been open for over a year now, so maybe not.
The namesake nihari was better than ever. One of my favorite dishes in Chicago, nihari is like the Pakistani version of osso bucco. The dish features a thick hunk of bone in cow leg meat braised in a brown gravy replete with fried ghee, tarka chili, and an assortment of herbs, spices and aromatics, including—but not limited to—coriander, garam masala, ginger, and garlic. Legend has it that the stew is so rich, that many Muslims who dine on the dish for lunch end up taking a nap until the afternoon call for prayer.
The Sabri version of the dish features a thick spicy gravy redolent with the perfume and taste of anise. One bite is like inhaling a fennel patch. The centerpoint though is a buttery melt-on-the-tongue mass of pliant beef. It's so good, I almost wonder if the third time will be a charm. I don't really want to find out, 'cause I'd really hate for another favored spot to burn down.