Nifty Shades of Green at Cilantro Bangladeshi Bistro
By Marisa Marsey
I nearly boiled over like an unwatched pot of lentil soup when I learned about Cilantro Bangladeshi Bistro. I couldn’t recall ever tasting the food of the fertile South Asian country, but I’ve long been a fan of Indian biryanis, chutneys and such; I figured that with India hugging most of Bangladesh’s border, culinary crossover was inevitable. And, indeed, at the modest, freestanding eatery just off of Virginia Beach Boulevard – too bright and clean to be called a hole in the wall – you will find tantalizers like saffron, ginger and cardamom, married with ghee (clarified butter), but as Enver Siddiky, the general manager of the four-month old family business, explains, “There are many of the same elements but different techniques. It’s like the way Japanese and Korean cooking start out the same but end up different.” Then, with a broad smile to show he’s not throwing down a gastronomic gauntlet but merely being loyal to his heritage, he adds, “I have a friend who says it’s less curry, more flavor.”
Cilantro is casual, with orders placed at the steam table-cum-counter where Siddiky patiently points out to newcomers each fragrant offering: shahi chicken, marinated in yogurt and spices before searing, finished with a rich cream sauce (yielding a peppery piquancy as well as sweetness and warmth from cinnamon and nutmeg); shrimp malaikari, simmered in coconut milk and redolent with turmeric; slow-cooked jhaal beef; and chotpotti, a kind of chickpea salad with a spicy, sweet and sour tamarind dressing. But Shayma Siddiky, Enver’s mother, emerges from the kitchen with certain items only once they’ve been ordered, including the croquette-ish stuffed alu chop and her handmade parata, wonderful, flaky flat bread, akin to phyllo or a steamrolled croissant.
Originally from the capital city of Dhaka, Shayma immigrated to the U.S. in 1975 and, until now, has never worked outside the home. She has, however, perpetually cooked these very same long-simmering pot dishes for large, multi-generational gatherings of family and friends. Whenever she washed and cut the cilantro, Enver delighted in the way its aroma filled the whole kitchen, inspiring their new restaurant’s name. The plan calls for Enver and a cousin to master the recipes of his mother and aunt (who can be seen grating and chopping through the doorway into the back-of-the-house) and expand hours to encompass dinner (Cilantro is currently open only during the day).
Everything is priced à la carte so don’t expect a fast food dollar menu. A meal of an entrée, vegetable, rice and bread will run about $10, quite fair considering the meat is the costlier halal. Several times a month, a family member travels to Richmond to meet a Pennsylvania supplier half way. But that’s the only thing half way about Cilantro, where all the slow-cooked menu items (plus a “one hit wonder” daily special as well as a fish and vegetable du jour) are prepared from scratch each morning, ensuring its sub continental cuisine is super.
1011 Kempsville Rd., Norfolk. Open Mon.-Sat. from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Catering and delivery available (call for details). 962-1004. Facebook.com/CilantroBistro
Green House Effect On The Peninsula
You may have seen the Magnuson Hotel sign in place of Omni when whizzing by Oyster Point’s City Center on I-64. The world’s largest independent hotel group recently flagged the steepled property, and with the switch came a new restaurant: Green House. Accenting its Modern American focus with a Southern drawl, the green in the title refers to executive chef Justin Burrus’ aim of using seasonal ingredients from local farmers whenever possible. The Norfolk native who graduated from Booker T. Washington High School and went on to train at Culinary Institute of America is still tweaking the menu he calls “down home goes healthy.” He uses eggs from Thomas Alexander’s Chesapeake farm for a turkey Cobb salad, and plucks squash from the garden outside of his open kitchen to accompany main plates such as oven-roasted crab cakes and grilled center-cut pork chops or to star in a vegetable panini or wood-fired veggie pizza. Still, there are plenty of indulgences like Hollandaise on roasted salmon and creamy mac ‘n’ cheese with catfish filet. The green theme extends to a vegetable compost and recycling program, and even to the fern-draped porch where “Garden Parties” prevail every Sunday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. (weather permitting). Chicken and shrimp come straight off the grill while a DJ plays house, pop, hip-hop and mash-up. There are couches à la Miami and L.A., hookahs, and spraying misters to keep it cool when the dancing heats up this Green House.
1000 Omni Blvd., Newport News. Open Mon.-Sat. for breakfast, lunch and dinner and Sun. for brunch. “Corporate Cool Down” after-work mixers on Fri. from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., and “Garden Parties” on Sun. (weather permitting) from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. 591-3505. www.magnusonnewportnews.com
Unexpected Green Grocer In Greensboro
I find “honor boxes” at unattended farm stands along roads on the Eastern Shore and other rural areas charming. They invite passersby to pick up a dozen eggs or some produce and, trusting in the goodness of strangers, ask simply that cash be left for them. But one such set-up I encountered this summer surprised me. A cart loaded with baskets of tomatoes, turnips, Pink Lady apples, navy beans, and Brussels sprouts, each marked with their price per pound and provenance, was remarkable because of its location: plum in the middle of Greensboro, one of North Carolina’s largest cities. It was a sidewalk extension of the worth-going-back-to-restaurant Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen, created by Quaintance-Weaver (Greensboro-based hospitality pros who know how to package nostalgia into sophisticated, sustainable-centric settings including the nearby O.Henry Hotel and its restaurant Green Valley Grill and Proximity Hotel with its Print Works Bistro). How could I tell this was no road less traveled? Next to the scale and bill-jammed jar was a sign: “No cash? That’s okay! Come to the front desk and pay with a credit card.”
1421 Westover Terrace, Greensboro, N.C. (also in Cary, N.C.). Open daily for lunch, dinner and late night. 336-370-0707 www.lucky32.com
Got restaurant, food or beverage news? Contact Marisa Marsey at email@example.com.