When my editor asked me to review Mount Vernon's Alladin Kabob (58 W. Biddle St.,  708-1112, alladinkabob.com), I was not excited. This is a restaurant that has been open for a year, generated no word-of-mouth buzz, and has a menu that is a scant collection of kebabs, Indian-style Pakistani dishes, and a smattering of random "American" dishes (pizza, fries, and wings). It did not look promising. Don't get me wrong-I like the style of food that they offer (Middle Eastern, South Asian), but in Baltimore, usually what you get is a plate full of tough, indistinguishable meat cubes in a spicy sauce that kills your palate, making everything eaten afterwards the gastronomic version of white noise. Again, I was not excited.
It was in this mindset that I sat in this basement dining room (it used to be Abacrombie Fine Foods) waiting for the parade of bad food to start. I don't like writing bad reviews. Who would? A bad review sucks the happiness from me like a hungry dementor ready for seconds. When the meat samosas ($2.99) were delivered to the table, however, I saw a glimmer of hope. They were golden-amber, steaming hot, and filled with ground beef and spices. The crust was salty and wonderfully crisp next to the softness of the meat. A duo of dipping sauces helped accent the spices in the samosas. The tamarind sauce was sweet and sour, with a good tang to it, while a mint chutney was a bit overpowered by lemon juice and jalapeño. The next appetizer to the table was the chickpeas ($2.50). Simmered for four hours in 10 spices, these little lovelies seemed spicy as hell, but once my mouth acclimated to the burn, the flavor of the chickpeas came through. The dish was warming and reminiscent of a vegetarian chili. At this point I sat back and took in the dark walls and small dining room, which has a nice sunroom for the lunch buffet, and Alladin Kabob started to feel like a wonderful secret. It became apparent that we were being treated to something special when the garlic naan ($2.50) hit the table. Puffed, crisp edges with just the right amount of char from the ovens swooped down into warm, airy, and buttery flatbread sprinkled with garlic. It is the best naan any of us at the table had ever had. When asked about whether he used the naan as the base for their pizzas, owner Khalid Chaudhry replied "no" with a bemused look. If he used that naan as the base and added fresh sauce and soft cheese, he would have one of the best pies in the city. Regardless, the naan was a delicious mop for the rest of the fantastic food we ate.
The lamb curry ($10.99) contained tender yet resilient hunks of meat strewn throughout a curry sauce that was mild (my choice) and rich. Served over the house rice, which is fragrant from being cooked with cinnamon and cardamom, this dish gave me what I've always wanted from Indian restaurants. When any of the dishes became a bit too spicy, a pull of mango lassi ($4.50) chased the heat away. Lightly sweet and a bit tangy, this fruity yogurt drink tasted like a healthy Orange Julius but with more character. The chicken kebab ($9.99), a test of dental fortitude at other places, was firm and juicy due to the cavalcade of secret spices that it marinates in before cooking. Mr. Chaudhry assured me that the reddish hue on the chunks of breast meat was partly from the addition of paprika and turmeric to the marinade. (We would like to have seen more chicken on the plate for our money though).
The menu is wanting in the vegetarian department, but daal makhani ($7.99) made for a good option. Lentils are simmered in a thick and creamy tomato-based sauce spiked with garlic, ginger, and the house spice mix. Paired with the rice and scooped up by the naan, the daal proved a filling meal. The daal also makes a great late-night dip for potato chips (don't judge me).
Dessert came in a few different forms. Baklava ($2.99) was served in two honey-soaked ways: the flat-layered version and a rolled, squat tube filled with pistachios and walnuts. The house-made Kulfi ($2.50) was confected from milk, cheese butter, and pistachios. The pistachio is the main flavor, reinforced by chopped pistachios scattered over the treat. It was not as creamy as American ice cream but lovely and refreshing nonetheless.
Walking away from Alladin Kabob, I realized that I had just eaten the best Indian meal of my life, even if it was actually Pakistani. Surprised and pleased with the events of the night, I made a note to tell everyone I knew how great this place was and also remember to buy a few beers for my editor for dropping a gem of restaurant into my path.
Alladin Kabob serves lunch and dinner Monday-Thursday, 11 A.M. to midnight, and Friday-Sunday, 11 A.M. to 2 A.M.