The fragrant aromas from an East Indian kitchen provided a warm welcome on a bitterly cold night when we recently visited Cumin: Flavor of India.
The restaurant had been closed a couple of months following the death of Jas Mokha. His daughter, Shifali Bhullar, said she didn’t know if she had the motivation to carry on, and she wanted to spend more time with her two children.
In stepped Khurram Pervaiz, a friend who had been in the restaurant business for 20 years, who offered to join forces to keep the restaurant going. His father, Akhtar Pervaiz, also a veteran restaurateur, and a sister, Amna Quraishi, also volunteered to help. Akhtar Pervaiz said the families had been friends for almost 40 years.
“I didn’t know if I could handle it at first but having Khurram come in took a lot of the burden off me,” Bhullar said. “The customer response in emails, Facebook and phone calls wanting us to reopen was overwhelming. I’m so happy we could do it.
“I still am in the kitchen, and Khurram will be out front in the dining room.”
Khurram said that though he has many years of experience in the restaurant business, he “always wanted to do something on my own, and this was a great opportunity.”
Diners have a choice of going to Cumin for the lunch buffet or the dinner menu service. For no particular reason, we chose the latter.
We shared an appetizer of two vegetable samosas ($3.95) while we scanned the lengthy menu for our entrée selections.
The slightly spicy samosas featured a pastry shell filled with potatoes, peas, onions and roasted cumin, with fresh cilantro sprinkled across the top. They came with a sweet tamarind dipping sauce and made a nice starter to the dinner.
We also received a complimentary serving of thin lentil crisps with mint, spicy and tamarind sauces for dipping.
For our entrees, we ended up ordering lamb chop masala ($16.95) and tandoori malai tikka ($11.95).
The first plate included four thin, tender and mellow lamb chops served with a thick, tomato-based masala sauce. The sauce and chops were a perfect combination.
The tandoori malai tikka arrived sizzling on a cast-iron platter, featuring seven large chunks of chicken, roasted green peppers, roasted onions and lemon slices, all topped with fresh cilantro. The chicken had the pleasingly charred flavor from being cooked in the tandoor, or clay, oven.
An order of butter naan ($1.95), or flatbread, also came out of the tandoor oven. The naan was crispy outside, softer inside and was handy for dipping up extra sauces from our plates.
The menu includes a variety of chicken, lamb, seafood, vegetarian, tandoor, biryani, naan and desserts. Some are vegan and gluten-free.
The lunch buffet ($9.95 Monday-Friday, $11.95 Saturday-Sunday) had about a dozen main items when I was there for the photo shoot, including popular items such as chicken tikka masala, palak paneer and tandoori chicken.
From the beverage menu, I had the masala chai (hot tea, $1.95). Sweet lassi and mango lassi (like milkshakes) also are available.
Our server, Jay, was courteous and friendly. He seemed to have a good grasp of the menu, though he said he was relatively new to the restaurant.
Quraishi helped freshen up the dining room during the time Cumin was closed. She added photos behind the buffet table of ingredients used in Indian cooking. New decorations include colorful umbrellas that hang upside down from the ceiling.
Bhullar’s parents and other family members originally operated Indian Corner, a tiny spot at 61st Street and Garnett Road, from 2005-09. When her father first became ill, they left the restaurant business until he improved, and they opened Cumin in 2014.
Cumin is nearly impossible to see from a main street. It is located in the Centre 71 shopping center on the south side of 71st Street just east of Memorial Drive, near Incredible Pizza.