"If someone asks for something we don't have on the menu, we'll make it for them," Syed Hossain explains while pointing out what he describes as a "small" menu at his new restaurant Tikka Indian Grill on Williamsburg's Grand Street. "As long as we have the ingredients, we'll make it." In an era of no substitutions, Hossain's hospitality initiative is unique and expands beyond what's going out of the kitchen. Hossain says that while his memory for names can be lacking, he can pick out a face even years later. "I can even tell them where they sat."
Hossain's charming personality notwithstanding, it's undoubtably the food—crafted and cooked by Bangladesh-born chef Malika Khan—that packs out the small, simply-appointed dining room each night. Bright yellow crocks of Shrimp Malai Curry, with tangy mango spiced with fenugreek and cumin, are paraded through the dinning room alongside baskets of fluffy naan studded with onion or garlic. Bowls of Tofu Mushroom Jalfrezi offer a slow burn of onions and bell peppers for vegetarians, who'll find plenty to eat between paneer dishes and wholly vegan tofu and vegetable entree options.
Khan got her start cooking with her mother and grandmother, learning classic dishes, before going on to culinary school. From there, stints working in hotel kitchens in Kolkata, Bombay and London before settling in New York City. "It's a combination of various regions of India and Bangladesh," Hossain says of Khan's cooking style, which includes things like biryanis, tandoori chicken and Paanch Phoran Jhinga—shrimp tossed in a fenugreek seed, nigella seed, cumin seed, black mustard seed and fennel seed sauce—that both "grew up eating regularly."
Though Khan and most of the kitchen staff are Bangladeshi, Hossain was clear about wanting to highlight the flavors of India, even though there are many similarities between the two cuisines. "People know Indian, they don't know Bangladeshi," he explains. Still, the restaurant's Black Pepper Chicken, a super spicy poultry dish redolent with peppers and green chilies, would be common in his home country, which gets a nod here and elsewhere on the menu.
Hossain estimates that 65% of his customers are regulars who've come for repeat visits, an impressive feat for any restaurant. He's hoping the same will be true of the Indian street food restaurant he's opening in Astoria at some point soon. On the menu there will be things like kati rolls and curries and the plan will be to stay open later in the evening to entice revelers. To that end, they have a full liquor license (Tikka is BYOB at the moment) and plan to pour tap beers, predominantly.
185 Grand Street, (718) 768-2262; website