Go Eat This Now: Brain Masala at Shalimar

The Polk Street Indian-Pakistani restaurant is a Sunday night sanctuary — for the consumption of cerebrum.

Beef jalfrezi. Photo by Ryan Basso

It’s a cold and drizzly night on Polk Street and I feel like I’m the only one out. The lights and sounds of the Tenderloin are at a rare lull, except for the ching-ching of registers from takeout restaurants. The high demand for eating on the couch and bingeing on HBO means that many restaurants are empty. This is the one meal a week where, in solitude, I read, relax, and reign as king in my empty hall of bliss and bounty. My Sunday night sanctuary is Shalimar, and it should be yours, too. (The other location, on Jones Street in the Tenderloin, is considerably busier.)

First things first, Shalimar’s naan is crazy good. Once ripped into, the moist inside releases enough yeasty steam to fill a sauna. It is everything naan is supposed to be: massive, crunchy, and pillowy — and made only seconds prior. To accompany this work of art, I start off with the beef jalfrezi ($8.50), a dish with sautéed tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and “aromatic spices like whole cinnamon sticks and cloves.”

The beef marinates and soaks, creating an intensely rich, flavorful stew. Usually, when eating Indian or Middle Eastern food, I gravitate toward goat, lamb, or chicken, but this beef has become something I crave. The tender meat comes in a devilish, bubbling sauce. The cloves’ pepperiness stings my nostrils as the lava in front of me cools off. Once everything is at a safe temperature, the bread enters the oily, molten pit. The heat and satisfaction that comes from that first bite is like the first slurp of tomato soup after a long day of sledding.

While one of these dishes is plenty for anyone, I have never been able to choose only one, and what’s the rush anyway? Round two is for stepping outside of your comfort zone. Tonight I’m ordering the brain masala ($9.95), which is not for the faint of heart. It has the creamy consistency of most cerebrums — and I can understand why that may be unappealing for some people. That said, the sheer amount of spices and aromas fuming out of this dish will completely take your mind of the nature of the meat. The acidic tomatoes and onions balance out the texture, and the buttery sauce only enhances the dish’s decadence. Scoop some of that delicious mush on the naan and you’ve got yourself something special. It may sound excessively adventurous, but if you’re going to give brain a shot, it might as well be from somewhere famous for it.

As a kid, I always wondered where I would be and what I would be doing on rainy nights in the big city, once I got there. Those nights when you truly understand what the wee small hours feel like. I’m happy to be spending mine in my favorite Pakistani restaurant in San Francisco.

Shalimar, 1409 Polk St., 415-776-4642, no website.

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