An empty restaurant dining room is lonely. It makes the patrons feel awkward and the staff uncomfortable. The two sides end up pretending that nothing is out of the ordinary when in fact it’s strange. Mercifully, none of this happens one night recently at the House of Kebab, an Indian restaurant in Ball Square, Somerville, that used to be Yak & Yeti, from the same owners. There we are, sole diners in a 48-seat storefront, and the waiter is professional, the food well made, and our little duo, sitting on a hot-air floor vent on a freezing night, is enjoying it all.
We are in an alcove surrounded on three sides by wall murals of the Himalayas. Espresso cups filled with mushroom soup arrive compliments of the house. The puree has a mild heat, warmth from cumin and turmeric, and a little cream for richness. Then steaming hot, soft-skinned mo-mos ($6.95), Nepalese vegetable dumplings, something like Chinese pot-stickers, are juicy with cabbage and carrot filling, really nice with its lively tomato dipping sauce.
The restaurant’s former life as Yak & Yeti offered a mixed Nepalese and Indian menu, says co-owner Jagdish Singh, who also co-owns the Kebab Factory in Somerville with his friend Tarsem Singh. They decided to change the Yak & Yeti menu to match the Kebab Factory; mo-mos are from the old Nepalese lineup.
Dosa ($9.95) are strikingly good. These traditional lentil and rice crepes from the south of India are a foot long, exceptionally crisp, rolled up and accompanied by coconut chutney and sambar, a thin lentil and vegetable sauce. The golden rice dish biryani ($13.95) is pleasingly hot with big chunks of chicken (some is tough and fibrous), peas, and mushrooms.
Pan-grilled aloo paratha ($3.95), with mashed potatoes and peas in whole-wheat flatbread, shows off the kitchen’s skill with Indian breads.
The presentation of tandoori chicken ($14.50) is dramatic in the quiet dining room. A cut-up half chicken on the bone arrives on a long skewer set vertically in a tall copper pot, with a smoking bit of charcoal at the bottom. The succulent red-stained meat is accompanied by rice, a pureed tomato-cream sauce, and a sweet black-lentil puree.
On another night, the complimentary little cups of mushroom soup are just as delicious and especially welcome because now we are sitting across the room on a different vent that is shooting cool air up our backs.
This time, the theatrical kebab presentation is for chile chicken malal ($14.95), boneless chicken on skewers with large, golden pieces that are unfortunately quite dry. We use the creamy, saffron-flavored curry sauce from murgh aftabi ($14.95) as a dipping sauce, discarding an overcooked fried-egg on top. Lamb boti kebab ($16.95), billed as spicy, isn’t spicy, with unpalatably dry, chewy meat.
Paneer dosa ($11.50), crepes filled with paneer, a kind of fresh cheese, is as inviting and crisp as before. Indian friends dining with us wonder about the mix of South Indian crepes with traditional North Indian cheese. But they can’t help but like the dish. The bitter taste in the accompanying sambar, which contains corn, cauliflower, carrots, and zucchini, some unusual additions, might be fenugreek.
A wrap on very good homemade naan with grilled vegetables ($8.95) comes with plenty of mayonnaise, the fluffy round encasing zucchini, onions, and more. This is a variation of the popular Indian kati roll.
If the owners’ intention is to mimic the success of their sibling Somerville restaurant, the Kebab Factory, they’ve got a good start. Now it’s time to polish some of the dishes and fill the room.
THE HOUSE OF KEBAB
719 Broadway, Ball Square, Somerville, 617-764-2947, www.thehouseofkebab.com. All major credit cards. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Soups, appetizers, dosa, breads $2.95-$12.95. Biryani, curries, kebabs, wraps $8.95-$23.95 (most dishes under $20). Dessert $3.95-$5.25.
Hours Mon-Fri 11:30 a.m.- 10 p.m., Sat-Sun noon-10 p.m.
What to Order Plain dosa, paneer dosa, aloo paratha, chicken biryani, murgh aftabi, tandoori chicken.