I was recently invited to venture all the way out to Bushwick to try New York's latest Pakistani joint, BK Jani. While I've never tried Pakistani food, I'm always willing to try something new — besides, they had a burger, and I've never had a Pakistani burger before. My interest was piqued.
Walking in I had a good feeling about this place. Like it was written on the wall.
Literally — good reviews handwritten on the wall.
I walked through the cozy, narrow room to the counter at the back, where I met Sebte, my chef for the evening. Kelly wasn't there yet, so I asked if I had time to run out for a bottle of wine (oh yeah: IT'S BYOB). His response was the greatest thing I've ever heard someone who's about to cook for me say:
"Oh yeah... you'll be here a while."
"What do you mean?"
"Well... you're not only going to try one thing, are you?"
Folks, hear me now and hear me well: BK Jani gets it.
I ran out for a bottle of red and returned as Kelly was arriving. While we read more notes on the wall (seriously, the spot is covered with more good reviews than a Yelp page) and awaited the main course, Sibte brought out a tidy cup of Lentil Soup. Now, I love lentil soup and I've had lots of it in my life, but I've never had a lentil soup with such a kick. This was savory, yet spicy. Comfy, yet a comfy that had cojones.
I asked Sibte if the soup had curry in it, to which he rolled his eyes and responded, "Curry's not curry."
I was as confused as you, but apparently what you and I and many other Americans think of as "curry" isn't actually curry. That's actually curry powder, and it's essentially the spices from a traditional curry pre-packaged and shipped to grocery stores. A legitimate curry is closer to a roux than an herb, and could be far better explained by someone from Pakistan than someone from Montvale, NJ. Long story short, don't ask a Pakistani chef if he used curry in his dish. You don't use curry, you make a curry. My gringosity knows no bounds.
"Curry's not curry."
ANYWAY, as we finished our lentil soup, our next course came out, a Chicken Round. Chicken grilled and chopped with spices and served on a pita with a tomato cucumber salad, eggplant raita, and a yogurt sauce, topped with pomegranate seeds. It was served as another appetizer, but if I'm being honest? It would have been a perfectly fine reason to head all the way out to Bushwick on its own. The pita was soft, the chicken was tender, and the yogurt sauce was wonderfully creamy while balancing the spices nicely.
While echoes of the chicken were still reverberating, however, the reason I ventured to Bushwick in the first place finally arrived: the burger.
My god, this was a damn fine burger.
Let me be straight with you guys: I have never tasted another burger like this one. Was it the best burger I've ever had? Of course not, nor would I expect you to believe a statement like that. But in all honesty, traditional American-style burgers simply don't taste like this. It had spice, it had depth, it had ...sweetness? It had sweetness. It was medium-rare beef with mint chutney, yogurt sauce, and grilled tomatoes on a sesame bun, and it was a game-changer.
One thing you won't notice in that list of ingredients is condiments. That's right: no condiments whatsoever. "I hate ketchup, I prefer tomatoes," Sibte said (I'm paraphrasing), "Ketchup just masks the flavor, while the grilled tomatoes add to it." I can't say I disagree. This was... I mean, my god, this was a damn fine burger.
I was ready to go at this point. Not just leave the restaurant, but depart this mortal coil, vacate this ethereal plane. I had experienced all I needed to in that burger and could ascend to the heavens a fulfilled man, but Sibte had a final question: "Are you ready for the main course?"
Main course? Get the f*ck out of here, dude! Ready or not, it still came: lambchops with roasted cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, and asparagus. Did I have any room left in my stomach? Of course not. Were the sleepy tendrils of a food coma already overtaking my consciousness? Absolutely. But these were not the kind of lambchops you bargained with. These were tender, sweet, a little spicy, and above all very, very good lambchops.
I certainly didn't expect BK Jani to be subpar by any means, but this? This was an experience. The lambchops alone are worth the trip, but this burger is one of my top ten must-try burgers in New York. There's little else to say, to be honest.
BK Jani is BYOB, it turns classic American fare on its head, and it's one of the most down to earth spots I've ever had the pleasure of eating in. (I'll take paper plates and amazing food over ~ambience~ any day.)
If there's one negative thing to be said about BK Jani, it's that it's in Bushwick and I'm in Astoria. That's a hell of a long way for delivery.
I'm not one for biblical revelations or come to Jesus moments, but after BK Jani, I'm a firm believer in the writing on the wall. Get out to Bushwick and read it for yourself: