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If Frank and I had ever dated, our first date would have been the time he invited me to eat real, honest-to-goodness Taiwanese food in Richardson. I've been a Chinese-and-related food hater for most of my life, with the exception of this one vegetarian place in L.A. where I haven't been since 1990. Still, against my better judgment, every couple of years I jump at the chance to try some "real" East Asian food, hoping it'll be different this time.
That time with Frank, it was.
It was in Richardson, and everyone there was Taiwanese. But it was fried chicken. Yep. Not kidding. The menu was in Taiwanese and everything, but the items on it were some noodle soups, fried chicken and French fries. I remember Frank shrugging and saying something that seemed too obvious to be real: that people in Taiwan really do eat fried chicken just like this.
That was something like seven years ago, over the course of which Frank has morphed into the guru of Richardson (at least in my estimation). If, as he likes to say, Richardson is to Dallas what Queens is to New York City--namely, where you go to get saris or money transfers or cheap, awesome, authentic ethnic food--then he is my "in," my guy who knows every hole-in-the-wall Bengali place and hookah joint. On a hot, quiet Tuesday night, we decided to meet at Dosa Café in Bukhara Grill.
I arrived early and there was no one there, so I ambled up to the cash register and asked the Indian man behind it if any of the curries were dairy-free.
"No cream, no milk, no eggs, no butter, no ghee," I explained, just to be sure. He stared at me for half a second, then disappeared into the kitchen behind him. A moment later, he emerged with another man, this one clad in a black apron. They conferred, and then the man with the apron pointed to a tomato-based curry on the menu.
"This," he said, nodding at me. "You can have goat."
"No, no meat either!" I said, and I think I must have looked a little panicked, because the first guy scurried back into the kitchen to invite another man into our discussion. Together, the first two explained the dilemma to third.
"Ahh!" he said, his face lighting up in sudden comprehension. "The vegan! You want the vegan!" (Only he pronounced it "wee-gun.") I was elated! Understood, at last! They conferred again, and then reported back: They would make me a special red curry with all the vegetables. I grinned--but then, ever my foible, I pushed my luck.
"Naan?" I asked in a small voice. I'd been left alone with the man in the apron, who shook his head mournfully and explained that it had cream. I asked about pakora, and he disappeared into the back, returning with the news that I could indeed eat pakora, and also the samosas. I ordered both, but Apron Man tried to dissuade me. It would be too much! (Corollary: I represent the obesity epidemic, and everything that's wrong with America!) But I promised to take some of it to go, which visibly pacified him. All told, it wasn't cheap, but it wasn't too bad, either--$21, including the surprisingly delicious cup of coffee I ordered after the meal.
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Frank ordered papri chaat, an appetizer made with fried chips covered in yogurt, chutney and chickpeas, and a red curry with paneer. (For all you non-vegan vegetarians, he said it was excellent.)
My personalized curry was good, but not mind-blowing--especially because I'd ordered it spicy, and it wasn't...but then maybe Apron Man was just looking out for me--although well-spiced and thick. What the curry lacked in fire came through in the pakora, where whole battered-and-fried Thai chilies hid themselves in with the onions and potatoes--surprise! The samosas were small and flavorful, with perfectly crunchy outsides and hot, delicious spiced potatoes within, and served with a sweet tamarind chutney and a spicy mint sauce. The service (Apron Man...and I'm considering writing a superhero comic about him) was attentive without ever being intrusive; sadly, that was fairly easy with only four people, counting us, in the restaurant.
The décor consists of blue walls with a couple of small tapestries; the music shifted not-so-seamlessly between Spanish guitar and something like trance; none of it mattered. This place--or maybe just Apron Man--totally won me over. If you go, and if you start to explain that you want some curry with nothing in it but vegetables, just know that Apron Man's got your back.
955 East Campbell Road, Richardson