Bronx Eats: Revisiting Arth Aljanatain, Van Nest
We've written about Arth Aljanatain, the Yemeni restaurant that anchors a block Rhinelander Avenue dominated by Arab businesses, before, including them in last summer's guide to good eating around the Bronx zoo. Since those first visits, when I lapped up fenugreek broth and savored bread crumbs made dense and sticky by olive oil, I've continued to explore the menu whenever the infrequent opportunity arose.
Looking beyond fatta with olive oil and honey ($8), the menu is predictably heavy on lamb and chicken. Traditional dishes reign, with more generic "fish" ($14) and "grilled chicken" ($12) wedged in. Kabseh ($12), a famous dish of spiced rice and meat, proves a tantalizing option. But it's a dish you have to order a day in advance, a challenge when the staff isn't the most proficient in English. More accessible are mandi ($17), the de facto national dish of tandoor-cooked meat, fufu-redolent aseed ($14-16), and the less well-known melokeya ($13-15).
Having already ordered many of their lamb dishes, I opted, instead, for the curry chicken*: a Spice Winds dish whose presence and apparent significance illustrates a good deal about Yemeni cuisine. The plating was something to appreciate, squiggly chicken strips—colored a clayish yellow by the turmeric—intermingling with scallions and lightly cooked bell peppers. Taken alone, the flavor wasn't so seductive, the protein asking politely for just a little more salt. But its much improved by the addition of the pale tomato-chili sauce which will, inevitably, draw comparisons to pico de gallo. Used as a dressing, it adds vital spunk and brightness to the chicken. If you're dining with friends, I'd suggest ordering the curry alongside the more aggressive, bitter fahsa salta, where the light flavor will be of more service.
* The dish is listed on the menu twice in English, but if you look at the Arabic on the right hand-hand side you'll notice—even to the uninitiated like myself—a difference in language. What does this mean? I can only guess that its suggestive of more than a basic plating difference (ie, rice versus bread), and perhaps compositional difference in the spice mixture. Are these the chicken curry of different regions? Who out there reads Arabic?
Entering the restaurant this past weekend, I walked in on a scene of sambosas ($3 for 2)—previously unavailable here—being assembled by the dozens in the dining room. Whether these snacks are a new addition to the menu or only around for Ramadan, I can't say. But it doesn't really matter, as these aren't worth ordering. The dry, unseasoned minced lamb filling making for an underwhelming appetizer, one not worth the calories.
Whether you opt for chicken or lamb, don't pass on their Yemeni-style spiced tea. Made with black tea leaves and some usual suspect spices, it's free of milk and has a soothingly aromatic quality that's good even in this heat. Just grab a Styrofoam cup and pour from the pitcher as many times as you'd like. The beverage is offered free of a charge, a welcome that overcomes the otherwise opaque language barrier.
700 Rhinelander Ave, Bronx NY 10468 (map)