I went back to Spicy Mina last night for a more in-depth investigation (check further down the page for the original visit coverage), this time with my roommate and two other friends. Taking one of the larger mid-room tables, we took some time to study the menu. Finally, we came up with the following dishes: palak paneer (again – had to introduce my friends to this), mustard fish, chicken jhal fry, Mina’s special dal fry, aloo gobie, to follow a chicken lollipop starter. 3 orders of nan, one order of paratha, and one plate of rice were to accompany these dishes, along with the baskets of papadums already consumed (the good onion relish and mint sauce did not appear this time, strangely).
First, the good: even my normally-cauliflower-hating future doctor friend declared the aloo gobie to be good, with big hunks of potatoes and cauliflower in a burnt-orange-colored sauce. At $7, this is one of the cheaper dishes on the stay-in menu (the take-out menu is totally different and seemingly a lot more straightforward, for what it’s worth).
I loved the dal fry/lentil mash, which was spicy, though not as spicy as I expected. Others thought it was blah – I think it might have been a texture issue, as it’s a little like thick oatmeal crossed with lumpy mashed potatoes. The chicken jhal fry was much more universally acclaimed – tender chicken in the spiciest sauce we consumed during the whole meal. A winner, to be sure.
The palak paneer, contradicting in this case Mr. Leff’s assertion that Mina’s dishes are likely to vary wildly from visit to visit, was remarkably similar to the preparation of it I consumed on Sunday. The ingredients are wilted spinach or spinach-like greens, dotted with crumbled cheese, and the dish’s primary flavor was garlic and a simmering undercurrent of spice. I’m not sure we got enough cheese this time, though.
As to the non-entrée dishes: the nan was buttery, fresh, and delicious – I’m not sure if she makes it herself, but if she doesn’t, it’s quite tasty for pre-prepared. The paratha was also good, and refreshingly free of the excess grease that sometimes consumes multi-layer pancake breads. The chicken lollipops were acclaimed to be good by my friends, and I even thought them acceptable, despite my general aversion to chicken wings. The batter is pretty light, which helps greatly.
On the other hand, the mustard fish was pretty poor, I thought, and it wasn’t just the bland sauce. No, the underlying fish could have been MUCH fresher. The fish is served whole, and upon picking apart the side of the fish facing up, we were struck by a way-too-fishy smell and taste. I would have left the rest if not for my medical school friend, still hungry (more on that in a second) started picking at the other side. Strangely, it was significantly less fishy – actually edible. Again, though, the sauce was really bland, and I probably wouldn’t order it again even if the fish was fresh.
My favorite dish of the night was, far and away, the rice pudding dessert. Described accurately by Mr. Leff as bordering on controlled-substance addicting, the pudding (served in a small portion) was creamy and delicious, not gloppy or ultra-sweetened like another rice pudding favorite, Rice to Riches. It was served with a small sweet cheese globe, dusted with pistachio powder, and adorned with a mint leaf (do me a favor and try this: suck on the mint leaf and have a bite of half of the cheese ball with rice pudding – it’s unbelievably good together).
I’m now of two minds on the Mina experience. Obviously, most of the food is good, occasionally great or sublime, and I’m all for a positive rating on that end. What’s the prob? Well, with four people, when you order four dishes, a whole fish, an appetizer, four large pieces of bread and a dish of rice, two of you have desserts, you practically lick the plates clean, and the check comes to $80, and you’re still sort of wondering if there’s anything else you could nosh on – I guess I could say that I thought the portions were a little small and the prices a little big. I, too, am all for not letting your favorite chefs starve to feed you cheaply, but I’d be likely to go far more often if the prices were a bit kinder.