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Sohna: Spicy Punjabi delights in Bellerose enclave

Craving curry? Hankering for something exotic and spicy? You can scratch that itch at Sohna Punjab Indian Restaurant on Union Turnpike in Bellerose.

Sohna, as the name announces, specializes in Punjabi cuisine, the cuisine of north India, and Pakistan. It was the first type of South Asian cuisine to be introduced to this country, and remains the dominant one in most Indian restaurants in the United States.

The cuisine is spicy without being incendiary. Cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, fenugreek leaves, mango powder and bay leaves are some of the herbs and spices widely used in the north. These spices are considered to have “warm” tones and are ideal for the cooler climate. Meats, especially lamb, goat and chicken, and breads cooked in clay Tandoori ovens are an essential part of this cuisine.

Sohna’s versions of the more universally available Indian appetizers like samosas and pakoras (fried, potato−filled turnovers and batter−fried vegetables, respectively) are reheated and undistinguished. What made us sit up and take notice were their chaats.

Chaats, literally meaning “to lick,” are Indian snack foods, often sold as street foods. Try a Bhel puri, one of Bombay’s favorite snacks, a mixture of puffed rice, sev (fried bits of lentil batter), puri (bits of fried bread), lentils, finely chopped onions and chopped coriander, topped with two kinds of chutneys: the sweet tamarind−date chutney and the spicy onion−chili chutney. Pani puri is an equally delectable mishmash of spicy crunchy things.

The Tandoori specialties here are extensive, including items like seafood and quail along with the more predictable. Ginger kabab, made with boneless chicken marinated in sour cream, ginger sauce and Indian spices, didn’t disappoint. It arrived on a dramatically sizzling platter, wafting clouds of fragrant steam. The chicken was moist and juicy, and gently spiced.

We made the mistake of acting indecisively when ordering our lamb curry. When asked how we liked it spiced, some of our tablemates chimed in with “mild.” Although we amended our order to “medium,” our lamb curry was almost too bland to be called a curry, although the quality of the lamb itself was excellent. On the other hand, our goat saagwala, a mixture of goat and spinach, was superbly flavored. Unfortunately, the goat was as much bone as meat. The lesson in that is next time to order lamb saagwala instead of goat, giving us some of that nice lamb in a great sauce.

For vegetarians, there is a respectable list of veggie offerings. Baigan bhartha, roasted eggplant mashed with chopped onion, green peas and spices, turned out to be one of the pleasant surprises. It is a sensuous veggie dish, rich without being cloying. Vegetable biryani was well executed, with buttery rice mingling with vegetables and mild spicings.

Don’t forget to order some bread, the favored eating utensil in traditional South Asian societies. Puffy naan will do very nicely, but for something a little more interesting, try their onion kulcha, basically a naan generously filled with onion.

We completed our meal with an order of malai kulfi, that devilishly rich Indian ice cream made from condensed milk and chai.

The Bottom Line

Situated, as it is, in one of our multi−culti borough’s South Asian enclaves, Sohna does a good job of pleasing the palates of both desis (Indian homies) and mainstream Americans. They have a full bar, although Indian beer is the perfect accompaniment to curries. Their prices are modest, no small consideration in these recession−driven times.

Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e−mail at qnsfoodie@aol.com.

Sohna Punjab Indian Restaurant

248−03 Union Turnpike

Bellerose, NY 11426

718−470−9400

Price Range: Appetizers: $2−$12; Entrees: $7−$15

Cuisine: Punjabi Indo Pak

Setting: Typical medium−sized Indian restaurant

Service: Efficient, attentive

Hours: 11:30 a.m.—1:00 a.m. everyday

Reservations: Optional

Alcohol: Full bar

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Children: No menu

Music: No

Takeout: Yes

Credit Cards: yes

Noise Level: Acceptable

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