I was lucky enough to hear about the opening of Habiba a few days before it happened. I wrangled a friend with a worldly knowledge of food, literally he has tasted food all over the world in his travels, to go with me on the second day they were open for business. I decided before I went that I didn’t want to write about it the first week it was open for business, to give the restaurant a fair chance to get on its’ feet. But after two visits in one week, there were too many good things to say about it that I had to share it with other people in the area that are looking for something a little different for lunch.
The first week of business Habiba was open for an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. I wasn’t completely familiar with all of the dishes, but I received a quick class from a friend who is Pakistani and I gained a general idea of what I was getting myself into. Located in the Twixt Town Shopping Center, Habiba is just getting on its’ feet so I wasn’t surprised when the decor and ambiance was minimal As I walked to the buffet line, I was surprised by the neutral palate of colors and the dishes that looked familiar, although originating from a country on the other side of the world. I loaded my plate with a taste of each dish and sat down. As we started to eat, Andy relayed a story he learned traveling through India that you are to “eat with your five senses”. You can tell how good the food is by (skipping the obvious, the flavor) the smell while it’s prepared, the consistency of the dish by the sound of it cooking, the colors that combine on the plate, and finally, the feel of it between your fingers as you put it together to eat it. Obviously his knowledge of Indian and Pakistani food far exceeded mine, so I opted for a fork and attempted to follow his suggestions for enjoying this food the way he had learned how. As Amer, the restaurant manager, approached our table to ask how the meal was going, we told him it was great and request another basket of the naan. This middle eastern bread is cooked in their tandoor and available upon requested, which in our case involved four baskets. The fourth visit by Amer to ensure we were enjoying our meal prompted his two critical diners one too many times for honest feed back, “So, what do you think of the food, honestly?” Andy was the brave one to respond, “Honestly, the name ‘boiled rice’ is not that appetizing. What is in the rice?” As Amer explained to us how the rice is prepared and spiced, he rattled off a list of ingredients I didn’t recognize, but one was all we needed. “There. Use that.” Andy suggested. And before we knew it, Amer was back out of the kitchen with a new name plate for the “boiled rice”, a much more enticing name of “jerra rice”. We finished our plates of Pakora, Chicken Curry, Lamb Palao (Lamb Rice), Dum Kabab (Smoked Ground Beef Kabab),Mixed Vegetables, Channa (Garbanzo Beans),Sweet Kheer Dessert (Rice Pudding). And while all of the dishes were good, it wouldn’t feel fair to say anything besides that I couldn’t wait to visit again since this was my first venture into Pakistani cuisine.
As we left, we expressed our last criticism, “The metal tongs get hot when they sit on top of the chaffing dishes and it burns your hand”. Upon my second visit, three days later, the change of serving utensils was the first thing I noticed. This small acceptance of our suggestion is what made me decide to write this article. I think there are too few places that actually consider what their patrons need, taste and express in honest feedback. This city has great potential for being a center where good food, cooked by talented chefs, managed by people who care, and these things sometimes get lost behind chain restaurants or the mass-production of “sports bars”. And the restaurants in this city that do care, need to be in the spotlight for their efforts to step outside of that box and provide something unique, delicious,
I would like to say more about my second visit, but I was cozied up at my table meant for four, but seating five and enjoying plates of Pakora and Naan while sipping Pakistani Chai the entire time. A meal quickly turning into my ideal lunch couldn’t be topped by any other items provided that day. (Their menu changes daily for now.) But you could ask any of the other 100 patrons that walked in the door on Friday because I didn’t see any of them walk out without a smile on their face. And that is exactly what Hadji wants.