Meet the Chef: Shiraz Mia of Rani Mahal

Each day of the week, Rani Mahal's chef reinvents the restaurant's lunch buffet—replacing some of the dishes offered the previous day at the Indian restaurant in Mamaroneck.

When owner/partner Abdul Jalil arrives at in Mamaroneck at lunchtime he usually checks the buffet table trays to see what his chef Shiraz Mia has prepared. Jalil knows he won't see an exact repeat of the dishes available the previous day and so do the restaurant's customers. An ever changing daily menu keeps regular visitors from getting bored and provides a splendid opportunity for the sampling of a .

Each time the restaurant caters a party, Mia surprises the party's host by serving a special, unordered dish in addition to the . This pleasant and unexpected surprise for the partygoers has two purposes—it promotes good will for the restaurant and it provides a way for Mia to test his new recipes.

Should the surprise dish be a hit, Mia may offer it in the future to dinnertime customers as a special. In a few cases, the surprise dish has been added to the menu, but, since it changes only once a year, some time usually passes before this can happen. Rani Mahal caters on-premise private parties for up to 150 people.

Jalil and Mia go back a long way. When Jalil was 14, he worked after school at his uncle's restaurant called the Rabbi Restaurant in Bangladesh. Mia, 10 years older than Jalil, worked at the same restaurant as a cook. Jalil's cousin Mohammad Alam was also employed at the restaurant.

In 1984, when Jalil  was 17, he travelled to the Middle East and found a job as a waiter—work he would hold for seven years while attending classes part-time at a business college. He also  learned how to cook, although that was not in his job description.

His cousin left Bangladesh for America in 1985 and was hired by Malabar Hill, an Indian restaurant in Elmsford, NY. He and Jalil kept in touch frequently by telephone.

At 24, Jalil took three months off to spend time with his family in Bangladesh. "While I was there," he said, "I received a phone call from my cousin that changed my life." A job as a waiter was waiting at Malabar Hill if Jalil wanted it. So he packed his bags, booked a flight to America and reported for work at Malabar Hill on March 9, 1991.

During the next 13 years, Jalil worked at Malabar Hill alternating between full and part-time employment during stints at HSBC and the Bank of New York. During his last four years at the restaurant he worked full-time as assistant manager.

Jalil and three partners, including his cousin Alam, bought Mughal Palace in Valhalla in 2004 and Mia signed on as chef. When Jalil opened Rani Mahal in 2006, Mia joined the new restaurant to head its kitchen staff. Jalil still maintains a financial interest in Mughal Palace, which is managed by his cousin. 

Mia says that three of Rani Mahal's most popular dishes are aloo gobi, palak paneer and Navaratan Korrma (all three dishes are vegetarian). Descriptions for these dishes follow:

  • Aloo Gobi. Cauliflower, potato and tomato cooked in light spiced gravy ($12.95).
  • Palak Paneer. Cheese cubes cooked with spiced spinach gravy ($12.95).
  • Navaratan Korma. An assortment of vegetables cooked in a mildly spiced creamy cashew and almond sauce ($13.95).

Among the many chicken dishes on the menu, Mia says the most popular are Chicken Tiki Masala (Jalil's favorite for dinner) and Chicken Madras. Descriptions follow:

  • Chicken Tikka Masala. Boneless white meat chicken simmered in a tomato cream sauce with garlic, ginger and bell pepper ($15.95).
  • Chicken Madras. Boneless chicken cooked in a tangy coconut stew with ginger and curry leaves ($16.95). 

The buffet lunch costs $10.95 per person; it is available Monday through Saturday from noon to 2:30 p.m. A Sunday buffet with an expanded selection of food is served from noon to 2:30 p.m. and is priced at $13.95. 

Buffet service will be offered on Mother's Day, Sunday, May 8 for lunch at $19.95 and dinner beginning at 5 p.m. for $24.95. Both meals include a glass of wine or Kingfisher Indian beer. Each mother will receive a rose at lunch or dinner and the regular menu will also be available.

Rani Mahal has two entrances: one at 327 Mamaroneck Ave. and the other at 320 Philips Park Rd. in Mamaroneck. 914-835-9066. 


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