Internet hype and Spicy Mina.

Based on experiences with various implementations of harnessed chaos in discussion website form, I’m generally skeptical of the opinions, collective especially, of internet users (oh, blissful irony). However, I find the same users an invaluable source of information – tips on things I want to check out myself and form my own opinions on. Other than Robert Sietsema, my best source of ‘tips’ has been, so far.

Given the rudimentary, even primitive interface, it can take a while to appreciate the substance-over-style ‘atmosphere’ of the chowhound site. To its credit, it doesn’t allow is the kind of easy personal-reputation inflation that most discussion sites allow. There are no hard-and-fast usernames, there are no post counts, and there are no avatar-pictures to assist in the creation of virtual alter-egos. The founder, Jim Leff, has no special highlighting on his name, nor pushes his opinion under the cloak of “expert” opinion – the limit of his egoism seems to be in having dubbed himself the “big dog,” which pales in comparison to the world wide web’s worst self-aggrandizers.

What’s the reason I write all this, you ask? Most recently, I’ve seen a chef and restaurant proprietress named Mina turned into a demigod of home-cooked south Asian food on Mr. Leff, who, to his credit, has remained the sort of person to share opinions and credit for discoveries rather than preach, has consistently gone on record praising Mina’s cooking. I was particularly intrigued by Mr. Leff’s insistence that Mina rarely cooks dishes the same way twice – shades of Kenny Shopsin, I thought.

Interestingly, the kind of frothy anticipation that usually isn’t a hallmark of chowhound erupted from the many threads – wondering where Mina’s newest restaurant was located, when it would open, and what kind of food it would be offering. Updates bordered on the daily – also unusual for chowhound.

Well, Spicy Mina is now open on Broadway, at the 65th St. GRV station, just next to the lovely and scenic BQE, and my girlfriend and I made a journey over there yesterday night to investigate the substance that, hopefully, lay beyond the hype. Upon entering the two-thirds-empty dining room, I thought it unusual that nearly every diner was Caucasian. Occasionally taxi drivers would pop in the back door for pickup, but the possibility of a restaurant with $12 entrées in a relatively blue-collar, hype-free neighborhood is proof of the power of chowhound.

Belying the old saw that good ethnic restaurants must have ethnic constituencies, the food did not disappoint (as Mr. Leff says, people of all races and creeds can be food snobs or Olive Garden devotees). I’ve misplaced the menu that is my usual point of reference when writing these articles, but we certainly had the palak paneer, which was less like the chunky cheese spinach casserole Indian restaurant staple and more like an Italian-style wilted spinach and garlic concoction. It had an underlying current of spice, but nothing on the level of Zabb or Spicy & Tasty (long, skinny brown pepper hulls were on the side, they might have been tien tsin?). Interestingly, the cheese was more crumbled and feta-like in consistency, but there seemed to be more of it than usual. I believe our other main was chicken dopaiza, which was a creamy, korma-like sauce that held treats like golden raisins in its grasp, accompanied by tender chunks of chicken breast. Not spicy at all, though the rice, interestingly, had dried pepper strips on top (gave me quite a start on my first bite). Both dishes, and the rice, were excellent bordering on amazing.

I was a bit disappointed by the puri, which was a smaller, less puffy and (happily) less greasy version of the staple bread, but the papadum more than made up for it. Included were the freshest iterations of onion relish, the green mint(?) sauce, and the only version of tamarind sauce I’ve ever liked. The wafers themselves were crispy, lacking the usual baked-in seeds, but still flavorful.

I was absolutely impressed with Spicy Mina, but I’m not ready to draw a conclusion yet – I’m going to try and take a group there in the next couple of days, so I can try a bunch more dishes and report back more accurately on ingredients and prices. I don’t think we scratched the surface of what Spicy Mina has to offer.

As to the hype – justified? I can give a preliminary thumbs up, but, interestingly, Mr. Leff has tempered his praise slightly, calling the restaurant “good-not-great” in an October 26th post. I guess the two criteria that I can cite as evidence of its quality are that I would recommend it without hesitation, and that I’m going back. Try it and see what YOU think.

1 Comment

Filed under NYC

One response to “Internet hype and Spicy Mina.

  1. Socialist Jew

    I live a few doors down from Spicy Mina and I was curious as to why I see so many middle-class people in there every time I walk by. I googled the name, found your review, and I’m sorry, but reading your writing is like turning on a tape recording of finger nails scraping a blackboard.

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