Tavern Grill – The Crème de la Crème

One thing that has become quite common in Karachi is the sudden surfacing of restaurants serving mundane burgers and fries/steaks, Mexican and similar dishes. Every now and then there’s a new burger joint opened there, sandwich place here, or steak located around the corner. When one has so many choices to choose from, in order to survive, not only does the quality have to surpass that of its competitors, but so must the customer service. Nowadays, certain places miss the mark based on various factors; maybe the quality of service isn’t what you would expect from a new place; or the picture you saw of a dish on their Facebook page is clearly NOT what you have in front of you in your plate; or maybe the small plate of ‘barely visible’ pasta is exorbitantly expensive. What ever the reason for your dissatisfaction and resenting taking the decision to visit that specific establishment, when you DO find a place which meets the mark in this smorgasbord [pronounced “sch-mor-gaz-bord” – a metaphor used to indicate any diverse group; synonymous with a vast array of possible choices] of restaurant options, you feel ecstatic and gastronomically awakened!

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Situated at a prime location, Tavern Grill greets you with a welcoming entrance and staff, escorting you up a spacious wooden staircase. Playing, is a selection of excellent music from an era devoted to worthwhile and meaningful compositions, rather than just a catchy tunes with nonsensical words, which is almost everywhere; and in my opinion, is simply noise, nothing more. The menu is diverse in nature, ranging from burgers to steaks, Mexican to Italian, and places in between. However, the vital point to note, which makes Tavern’s wide array different from others who do the same, is that the dishes are competently created and consistently cooked; a rare feature to see.

The owner, Mr. Zubair Dossal, is always present, to not only greet his customers personally at their tables, but also to keep a watchful eye on the quality of food and staff. This courteous host reveals a quality and element many restaurants have been missing; that of care and concern regarding the customer’s needs and satisfaction, not just the monetary benefit hoping to be gained from opening up a restaurant.

For the starters/appetizers, the Tavern platter and Buffalo wings were ordered.

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The platter had various fried items such as thick onion rings, with crunchy onions coated in medium brown batter; and mozzarella sticks, with cheesy and stringy mozzarella, battered and fried; jalapeño poppers, large jalapenos stuffed with shredded chicken and cheesy sauce. Last, but definitely not least, my favourite from the platter; the fried calamari! 20150912_180248

But not the typical calamari you would expect to find at other places; no, the rings of calamari were moist and broke off from a single bite rather than attempting to saw through it with your teeth because it’s rubbery and overcooked. All these were accompanied with delicious sauces to mix and match with.

20150912_180304The Buffalo wings were also deep-fried and tossed in a buffalo hot sauce which was a combination of Frank’s Red Hot sauce and Tavern’s special twist to shake it up a bit. The sauce was not like the typical hot sauces found in Pakistan, which is really just Tabasco and painful to eat in large quantities or excess amount. This sauce had a balance of flavour which, if you’ve ever had Buffalo wings in America/Canada, etc., you would know exactly what the flavour should taste like; and eating these wings brought back feelings of nostalgia and happiness with each bite! The sauce made you nose tingle in delight when you smelled the wings; a blend of tangy and spicy making you crave more! In order to cool it down and balance the heat, it was accompanied with sour cream and fries.

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For those who have had the Roasters’ burger, the burgers at Tavern will give Roasters a run for their money! Tavern’s burgers are quite large in size, which will have you struggling to determine an action plan and figure out, not only where to begin, but how?

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NOTE: the orange-ish liquid at the bottom is NOT oil; it is the hot sauce that the fried chicken breast was smothered in! DELICIOUS!

Though I personally enjoy beef burgers far more than those with chicken, primarily for the reason that many people cannot cook chicken properly; and by ‘properly’ I mean that the chicken is either, completely overcooked and dry, or, in fear of overcooking it, it is raw; I may switch over to eating chicken burgers instead of beef purely based on the burgers at Tavern Grill! After inquiring from Mr. Dossal as to the method of preparing and frying the chicken burgers, I was informed that Tavern Grill individually weighs and assesses the cooking time for each chicken breast, which was a pleasant surprise!

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The burger had fresh and soft buns, a large chicken breast which wasn’t overcooked and perfectly juicy in the center, battered and deep-fried, then smothered in the same hot sauce used for the Buffalo wings.

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An Up-Close look at the Beautiful Behemoth of a burger I had! =D NOTE: the orange-ish liquid at the bottom is NOT oil; it is the hot sauce that the fried chicken breast was smothered in! DELICIOUS!

Complementing the succulent chicken breast in the burger bun were crunchy onions, crispy lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, pickled jalapeños and cheese melting off the sides. YUM! Not to mention, golden and crispy fries with delicious coleslaw.

Finally, for dessert, I tried a slice of their popular Mud cake. The size of the slice of cake was also just as generous as the burger I just had, instead of a sliver, which most places serve; it was moist, soft and decadent without being exceedingly sweet; poured on top was a thick chocolate sauce. Heaven!

[Unfortunately, I was too engulfed in its richness and deliciousness to take a picture; however, next time I visit Tavern Grill, I will be sure to take a picture of the cake slice!]

What else can a person ask for in a restaurant other than hospitality, genuine concern for the quality of your food and experience; value for money; and to have no feelings of regret or discontent when the bill arrives at your table? To find a place which has not only rekindled the flickering gastronomical fires in the customers who visit, but also in the dead embers of the culinary realm in Karachi, Tavern Grill has become a new favorite amongst many, including myself! It is highly recommended!

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One last up-close look at the Burger before ending this Post!

Lasagna with a Twist – Urban Chef

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Chicken Lasagna with a slice removed. Layers of delicious-ness!

 

Traditional lasagna always varies from maker to maker; no two lasagnas are ever the same. However with the pressure of making lasagna that is well-balanced, also comes the pressure of competing with flavors of those tasted earlier.

Though I love all kinds of food, lasagna is one of my favorites and I rarely come across one that I can speak highly about. Thus, the curiosity as to the flavor and technique led me to order the (Barbeque) Chicken lasagna from the Urban Chef, which was accompanied with a 300g sample of dahi baray [a dish consisting of balls made from ground lentils, which are deep-fried and served in a chilled, thick, sweetened whisked yogurt sauce]. The lasagna was placed in an aluminum rectangular container, which boxed up in a cardboard box of a slight larger size with the logo of the Urban Chef on top. The lasagna, to my surprise, was hot in temperature as if I had taken a few minutes to let the lasagna sit subsequent to taking it out fresh from the oven.

 

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The boxes the lasagnas came in.

The sample of dahi baray was wonderful! The yogurt liquid in which the dahi baray themselves floated in was not exceedingly sweet; the dahi baray had soaked up a sufficient amount of the liquid whilst resting in it, but not so much that they broke apart. They maintained their shape, but at the same time, were moist, and not dry. In this scorching and unforgiving heat, this was just the pick-me-up needed. It was light, fresh, cool, and refreshing. I enjoyed every spoonful, from start to finish! At the end, I wished that I had some more!

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Dahi Baray. Yum!

Now let’s move on to the pièce de résistance, the star of the show… the lasagna! Immediately after opening the cover of the container, with regards to the elements everyone looks for in any lasagna, one box was check marked, right from the get-go, the cheese layered on top. The sections of melted, lightly golden brown and crusty cheese were browned in such a way that each slice to be cut would get a taste of the beautifully baked cheese. In every lasagna, people struggle and, at times, nearly combat one another for the edges. And the edges in said lasagna were just that; lightly browned, just like the layer of cheese, but due to the moisture being removed whilst baking, the edges were thus, slightly crunchy.

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Check out that gorgeous lasagna with the beautifully browned cheese here and there. YUMMMMMMMM

When cut into, the knife easily went through the obvious layers within with little resistance, which made clear that the pasta sheets were not overcooked to the point of turning into complete baby food. Then the time to see Urban Chef’s masterpiece in the form of a slice clearly revealed layers of lasagna pasta sheets; roughly chopped, almost cubed, pieces of chicken with a slightly red marinade that seeped deep into the meat, béchamel and cheese. The chicken chunks were clearly marinated in advance based on how deep the color went. It was a unique lasagna; not your everyday, traditional lasagna. It was one that I have never seen before, a Barbeque Chicken Tikka lasagna. When one thinks of types of lasagnas and their variations, the most that come to mind are changes ranging from meats, to purely vegetarian, and now a new culinary trend of ‘dessert’ lasagnas. And when I initially heard the title of the lasagna, immediately what came to mind were the flavours of a standard barbequed, overcooked and dried piece of chicken; however, the flavour was only ‘tikka’ so much as the intensity of spice and flavour. I would like to point out that I enjoy spicy food but not to the extent as the way it is cooked nowadays wherein there is little to no balance and mostly just red chili powder to the point where the dish is nearly inedible. The chicken in the lasagna was spicy, but not exceedingly spicy; it had that nice ‘kick’ to it and was balanced with the béchamel and cheese so that it was ‘turned down’ a little. The mix of all the components of this lasagna were perfect and in harmony.

I admire the Urban Chef’s creative spin on a classic and did not anticipate such creativity and triumph, especially with the word ‘tikka’ in the title, but it was definitely worth the gamble!

I enjoyed the lasagna and the dahi baray very much; so much so that whilst writing this review, my stomach is growling for more. Come Saturday, Urban Chef can expect to get another order from me for this lasagna!

If you enjoy lasagna and/or spicy food which is unique, then this creation from the Urban Chef should definitely be on your list!

BURGER MAFIA

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The back wall with white stones on the bottom

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Triple Cheeseburger!

 

When driving towards Burger Mafia facing Saba Avenue on Khayaban-e-Shahbaz, the yellow-painted wall is unmistakably noticeable. Next to a take-away window, a small door conceals on the other side, a loud and colorful wall, as if you were walking in the streets of downtown; yellows, blacks, reds; traffic lights, tall buildings; posters of famous ‘mafia’ movies, such as Scarface with Al Pacino and Mario Puzo’s, the Godfather, just to name a few.

Waiters dressed in ‘gangster’ attire of the 50’s, when long black trench coats and fedoras were all the rage and commonly associated with gangsters, courteously escorted you to the table and, from time to time, visited to ensure that your experience is pleasant.

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The side wall with one of their waiters in the shot

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The burgers ordered were juicy and large, placed on a lovely white dish/platter, similar to the shape of a paddle, with a small round dent wherein the ketchup accompanying the burger was situated. Not your average coleslaw, which had a slight orange tinge to it, but tasted quite nice; fries which were crispy; and a sauce streaked on the bottom of one side of the plate. The burger patty itself was very juicy, and the ground beef clearly made and shaped by hand; a generous amount of beef and very unique taste; the flavour profile clearly kept the Pakistani/Desi clientele in mind. Not your average burger patty! The burger buns, in which the patty was resting, were noticeably soft and the juices from the patty and the sauces from within the burger were soaked up by the buns; thus, all the flavours from every bite were in every subsequent bite.

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One of the highlights of this new burger joint was…the bottomless drinks! Yes, that’s right, all-you-can-drink soda while you enjoy the music, food and ambiance created by the polite and friendly staff AND owners. The owners were kind enough to seldom visit our table to not only explain their vision, but also to make sure we enjoyed the food and experience. No more dilemmas of arranging and timing every sip thus, forcing yourself to drink your beverage so slowly so that it lasts for your entire meal! You may easily finish it in one gulp, if you please, and then ask for another, without hesitation or fear that it will be added to your bill.

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Double patty burger with bacon

The overall dining experience at Burger Mafia was pleasantly entertaining with well-mannered and polite staff who were very attentive; the burger patties, created by hand and with care; the buns, soft and light; the sauces, very tangy and complimented the burger nicely; unlimited refills of the beverages and an experience worth having! If you are searching for this kind of experience and taste then Burger Mafia is where you should go!