A few months ago, a visitor to my website informed me that Shan restaurant in Alameda had been sold and reopened under the name Sahib. The place kept the same name and telephone number, but the food supposedly was now very good. I checked online and all the reviews of Sahib I could find were pretty positive, so I decided to give it a try.
After a couple of failed attempts, we finally made it to the restaurant on a Friday night in January 2002. The place looked pretty much the same: a large room with Indian decorations on the wall, large glass chandeliers descending from a flat roof and a somewhat out-of-place brick gas fireplace on one side. All in all it doesn't have much of an ambiance, but then again, not every restaurant has to have one. Less forgivable, however, was the intense smell of ammonia that greeted us as we came in. Once we sat down, we found it somewhat diluted by the smell of incense, but it still bothered my dining companion throughout the meal.
The menu had changed slightly from our earlier visit (it didn't include, for example, chicken tikka masala or lamb korma), but it was all in all your typical northern-Indian menu. Most dishes seemed to be priced around $8 and came with rice.
We ordered some of our favorites: chicken pakora, lamb pasanda, chicken masala, kabuli naan, a sweet lassi and a mango lassi. The meal started well with a very crisp and flavorful (though not spicy) papadum. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there. My friend liked her mango lassi, but my sweet lassi tasted a little bit too much like curd and was not sweet enough. Our chicken pakora was just OK. The chicken itself was a tad dry, though some pieces seemed to have been dipped in curry before battering. The batter itself was a bit too thick, not very flavorful and did not stick well to the chicken. The accompanying tamarind sauce was pretty good, however.
Both of our main dishes suffered from the same problem: they were bland and boring. Neither had any type of complexity or much taste to speak of, though the chicken masala was a little bit spicy. My friend resorted to spreading tamarind sauce on the meats to make them more palatable; I ate them but did not really enjoy them. I did take the leftovers home and had them for lunch the next day. By then the two sauces had merged in my leftover box, and this did nothing to either improve or detract from the general taste of the meal.
The rice that came with the curries also left much to be desired. It did not taste at all like basmati rice, so I imagine they used a cheaper alternative. Our kabuli naan was better. It was much thicker than usual and the filling was mild but pleasant. However, the filling consisted of just a reddish paste, we missed the different consistencies of cherries and nuts that usually make this bread so good.
Service was fine; our water glasses were filled when necessary and the food came smoothly and on time. At the end of the meal, the waiter brought boxes for our leftovers and wrapped the leftover naan in aluminum foil.
All in all, I must say we were disappointed by the food, which tasted suspiciously like that served when the restaurant was named Shan, and we will not go back. You might want to skip it too.
1531 Webster Ave.