Last month the former Jimbo’s Famous Roast Beef & Seafood in Union Square, Somerville, reopened as Barbeque International, casting a wide net and proclaiming itself “A mecca of barbeque pleasure. A sizzling assortment of the world’s most popular barbeque food.”
At Barbeque International this translates to a vast assortment of dishes, from Buffalo wings and baby back ribs, to shawarma and house-made Indian flatbreads. It seems as though the restaurant wants to stretch and showcase authentic Indian specialties without losing customers who counted on Jimbo’s for subs and mozzarella sticks.
We weren’t big fans of the subs here (since the shop changed owners years ago) but with the new place, we were most curious about the Indian food.
Punjabi wings ($6.95), which we order fire-roasted (you can also get them deep-fried), are tender, and very spicy, but they are missing the tandoori char we’re expecting. American baby back ribs ($12.95) which pull easily from the bone, are slathered in a sweet and savory sauce, but lack the pink ring and smoky flavor of true barbecue. Something is awry. An uninstalled tandoori oven sits behind the counter (apparently it doesn’t fit in the kitchen). For now, those chapati and “fire-roasted meats” are coming out of a pizza oven. We are told we can expect the tandoori within a week.
The restaurant is counter-service, though the attentive cashier will happily serve you at one of the few tables. On one visit we receive complimentary cups of a garlicky tomato soup, and our lamb shawarma ($9.95) comes with a sweet and tart yogurt lassi, a kind of Indian smoothie. The sandwich contains a hearty portion of salty but tasty lamb, yogurt sauce, tomato, and lettuce. It satisfies a craving in a part of the city where there are few places to get shawarma, but we wonder why it is wrapped in slightly stale pita, and not one of the delicious flatbreads you can order a la carte ($3.50).
Paneer masala ($9.95.) is a creamy, spiced tomato sauce studded with tender cubes of the Indian cheese and served with fluffy basmati. Dal tadka ($8.95) is a stew of yellow lentils with onions and ginger. Owner Hapreet Singh’s North Indian heritage translates beautifully in these simple dishes, which we eat from the Styrofoam trays. Our favorite dish, goat curry ($11.95), is listed under the small section of chef’s specials. With fingers, we tear apart tender goat shanks greedily and scoop up the spicy sauce with more flatbread.
Our table is split on the Nepalese dumplings, pork mo-mo ($8.95), little balls of heavily spiced ground meat tucked into wonton wrappers, and topped with tomato sauce. Shrimp do-piaza ($11.95) is a flavorful dry curried dish of peppers and perfectly cooked shrimp that would benefit from a touch less salt.
There are already several Indian restaurants in the Union Square area, so it makes sense that Mr. Singh would want to differentiate his new venture, but it would serve him well to tighten up that far-reaching menu, focusing on the food he does best. Once the tandoori is up and running, we’ll back to try the fire-roasted flavor promised on the menu.