The scene on Jean-Talon: Shamu and Halal 786 (from left to right)
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.
Last night, Kazi, Michelle and I had plans to go out for Turkish food. Michelle and Kazi had tried a Turkish place on Jean-Talon called Doruk a few months back and they'd raved about it afterwards. Michelle claimed it was the best Turkish restaurant she'd ever been to. We were a little bit anxious as we made our way up to Jean-Talon because another good Turkish restaurant downtown had recently closed down, and, sure enough, when we got to what had been Doruk's location, it had closed down. Even a very positive review in the Montreal Gazette couldn't save it. It had been replaced by a Turkish cafe/bar called Agora, and the walls were now plastered with Turkish soccer team banners. We asked the bartender if he knew what had happened to Doruk, but he was none the wiser. It was time for Plan B.
Luckily, Jean-Talon west of Park Avenue is a pretty easy place to come up with a Plan B. That section of Park Extension, as many of you well know, has all kinds of tantalizing restaurants and specialty stores of all stripes. We decided to go to a Pakistani restaurant that Michelle had been to during the summer, but that neither Kazi or I had experienced yet: Halal 786.
There are a couple of mysterious things about Halal 786, right off the bat. First off, the name: its address is 768 Jean-Talon, not 786. We tried and tried to find some kind of alternate rationale for the name, but came up empty*. Secondly, the decor: the restaurant has nets containing "fish" and other "sea-catch" hanging from the ceiling, the walls are covered with nautical motifs (ships' steering wheels, portholes, etc.), and the whole place just generally has the look of a Long John Silver's franchise. They've got fish on the menu, and one of the specialties of the house is a grilled tilapia (which Michelle had on her first visit and apparently is phenomenal), but it didn't seem like they had enough seafood on the menu to warrant such surroundings. Later, we asked one of the employees how long Halal 786 had been in operation and we found out that the restaurant had been a Greek restaurant for a number of years in the late-'90s (bingo!), and then an Indian restaurant, before the present management took over.
We started off last night's meal with Dood Pati, the Pakistani-style tea brewed in milk recommended by the waiter. Then we ordered our main and our sides: 1 whole BBQ chicken, chick peas, lentils, and spinach with paneer, rice, and an order of nan. Everything was fantastic, but the chicken (Lahori Chargha) was truly amazing. It was made with a salt and spice dry-rub and the resultant chicken was both succulent and piquant. The lentils were of a different variety than your average dal. They had more texture to them and were beautifully seasoned. The palak paneer was the best I've tasted in Montreal. The channa masala was exceptional, with more kick to it than the chick pea dishes I've come to expect from my favorite Indian restaurants. Pakistani cuisine is renowned for being fiery-hot. Halal 786's dishes definitely had some heat to them, but they were complex and flavorful without being overwhelming.
The portions--especially the chicken--were very generous indeed, so we got full before we could finish everything that had been laid out before us. (We were quite happy knowing that we'd be having Halal 786's amazing cuisine as leftovers the next day, though.) Even with my legendary sweet tooth, I really wasn't thinking about having dessert afterwards, but Kazi had decided that we HAD to try one of their desserts, so she insisted. I'm glad she did. She ordered what the waiter described as being the specialty of the house: rice pudding. He told her that it had just been made an hour earlier. The rice pudding came served in a plastic container, but that was the only thing that was mundane about it. It was creamy and rich with lots of pistachios in it, and just a hint of perfume. I'm pretty sure it was the best rice pudding I've had since I was in Cairo during Ramadan in the early '90s. Between the three of us, we finished that poor pudding off in a matter of seconds.
[Halal 786 is located at 768 Jean-Talon West (Park Extension). Their telephone number is 514 270 0786 and they deliver until midnight.]
*When we got home that evening we found out that the name had numerological significance.