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Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010

Dera Grill Explores Pakistani Cuisine

Tandoori cooking, yogurt lassi drinks among authentic offerings

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Looks can be deceiving—and the interior of Dera Grill puts on quite the ruse. Rows of high-backed black metal chairs near long tables covered in white give the impression of a generic Chinese buffet. Dera does, indeed, offer several Chinese dishes, as well as some Middle Eastern offerings. Neither, however, is likely the greatest draw for this strip-mall eatery a block away from one of Wisconsin's biggest mosques.

The wider Indo-Pakistani variety offered by Dera makes it one of the few places in the city to emphasize the Pakistani side of that subcontinent's cuisine. The differences may be subtle, but they're worth exploring for diners who already have a taste for Indian food.Dera's variations on tandoori cooking account for its signature entrees. Frontier chicken satisfies deliciously with its complex and hearty combination of boneless white meat chunks, cilantro, ginger, onion, chopped tomato, spices and mild jalepeño. Like all of Dera's tandoor and grill offerings, frontier chicken and the similar Dera Special can be had as a sandwich ($3.99), a sandwich combo with fries and soda ($6.49) or a full dinner entree with rice or fluffy naan flatbread ($8.99).

The naan itself merits a mention. Besides the plain kind ($1 for two sizable pieces), the sesame seeds atop the Peshawari naan ($1.50) add a distinctly nutty flavor from the little beige bits that can be taken for granted as mere garnish. A garlic variation ($1.50) may be had as well alongside thinner, crispier roti ($1) and the aloo paratha filled with seasoned mashed potatoes ($1.99).

Another side staple, salads (all $1.99), comes in intriguing variations, too. A cilantro salad made with the namesake herb and burghul wheat bears some resemblance to Middle Eastern tabouleh, but then there's the addition of more non-spicy, deep green jalepeño and lime juice to mix with the olive oil. The house salad of iceberg lettuce, tomato, cucumber and onion would seem like most others were it not for the substitute of chutney for traditional dressing.

Chicken soup, with finely shredded meat and egg whites, comes off as a sort of Asian chowder. A lentil soup, found in its Middle Eastern listing, has a creamy consistency and warmth that would complement selections from any portion of Dera's menu. Chinese egg drop and hot and sour soups may be had as well.

Some beverages at Dera add exotic flair. Yogurt lassi drinks are available sweet or salted ($1.49) as well as with mango ($1.99). The latter is frothy with pulpy fruit amid ice and dairy ingredients. Milk mixed with red tea makes for pretty, scrumptious pink tea ($1). Eaters with a greater need for caffeine can imbibe coffee of both the American and Turkish sorts ($1.49).

An 11 a.m.-2 p.m. lunch buffet features an assortment from Dera's ethnic multiplicity. Come Ramadan, an evening halal buffet ($9.99 adults/$4.99 children) starts at sundown and runs until 11 p.m. Meats, at least for Dera's Pakistani and Middle Eastern delights, are prepared under Koranic zabiha dictates.

Dera Grill

869 W. Layton Ave.

(414) 744-2500

Credit Cards: All Major

www.deragrill.com