In Persian, Koh-i-Noor means ”mountain of light,” and it refers most famously to a storied diamond mined in India centuries ago. (To architects, normally more interested in lead than diamonds, it also adorns a line of pencils and other drafting supplies.) Once the world’s largest, it passed through the hands of various emperors, rajahs, and shahs before being presented, as a spoil of war, to Queen Victoria in 1850. Said at one time to have value such that it would feed the entire world for two days, the gem now adorns the crown of the late Queen Mum and is a feast only for the eyes. For the record, it apparently prefers the company of women, misfortunes having befallen male monarchs who have presumed to place it upon their heads.
Kohinoor Restaurant & Grill bills itself as offering 100-percent halal Indian and Pakistani cuisine, and it is a gem of a different sort, its first level of brilliance being derived from the relentless use of strip fluorescents. The place is nothing if not bright, and the plastic furnishings put one in mind of a minor food court. There is very little décor as such. But in compensation the restaurant is also spotless, and it’s run by a family that radiates its own warmth and charm. (OK, I’m told that dad can get a little stressed at lunch.)
The food also sparkles with real spice. For appetizers, we had pakoras of potato and samosas of ground beef, and they were sturdy and subtle, with cumin coming through over what might have been a back note of ground coriander in the pakoras. Both were served with a Pakistani version of raita, thinner and more assertively flavored than the standard Indian cooler with cumber and yogurt.
A couple of goat dishes were listed but neither happened to be available. “Pickled” goat was bubbling away in the kitchen, however; how could we refuse? The pickle flavor comes largely from the vibrant sauce containing pickled chiles and perhaps even a dollop of preserved Indian pickle condiment. Did the son know what dad had done in the kitchen? Nope. “All I know is that everything is going to be in his will,” he replied. Whatever the magic, the goat was tender, the sauce irresistible, and an order of flaky paratha flatbread, easily almost 2 feet in diameter, was a perfect foil for the savory stew.
We can also recommend the tender, tandoor-like chicken boti “marinated in special spices”; the potato-based alloo pyaz with tomato, cumin, bay leaf, and ginger (this we could figure out ourselves); and the tawa-style (a tawa is an Indian/Pakistani frying pan) tilapia filets “sautéed in special spices” with sliced fried potatoes, all in an earthy gravy that surely had ginger, garam masala, fenugreek … or not.
In contrast to the liberal hand with herbs and spices dad exhibits with most main dishes, the desserts were models of restraint. Kheer here stands for a rice pudding subtly scented with saffron and topped with chopped pistachios and almonds. It’s not excessively sweet. And neither is the sliced, frozen kulfi with saffron and pistachios. But for a real jolt as you make your way out the door, get bold with sweet masala paan. Again, we don’t exactly know what went into the packet made from a brilliant green betel leaf wrapped around crunchy areca nut with flavors that conjured up an entire spice market — emphasis on rose and maybe seeds such as fennel. It will take your breath away.
We do think that after a day in the kitchen, this isn’t what dad chooses to end his evening, however. “I go home and have bacon and eggs,” he admitted. No secret sauces there.
Kohinoor Restaurant & Grill
8515 Starcrest Dr.
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