Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Bombay Bowl: Take this with a grain of insanity spice

I’m as impatient as I am sloppy, but that doesn’t mean I’m a fan of the so-called quick-casual genre, mainly because it’s synonymous with franchises, or would-be franchises. I mean, many a fine indie sub shop/pizzeria/taqueria manages to be both quick & casual without tacking on that tacky echo of corporate-speak, code for “1 step up from fast food.”

Though it’s presently a single-unit operation, Bombay Bowl is clearly built for growth as well as speed—which necessarily means it aims to be as many things to as many people as possible. That includes people who put fullness before flavor, convenience before ambiance, familiarity before discovery. Hey, those folks gotta live too—really!—but I don’t generally wanna eat where they’re eating.

Yet on a recent lazy whim, I went ahead & did just that (or close—ordered delivery). And then I did it again. Because guess what? Most of the food tasted good. Was it an uncompromising foray into regional-Indian culinary tradition? Of course not. But were the flavors fresh & distinct, the ingredients well handled? By & large, yes.

Especially the saag bowl, which I got with surprisingly tender cubed beef, extra sauteed veggies, chili-lime chutney & insanity spice. Served over basmati rice, the classic spinach dish brimmed with brightness & nuanced aromatics—except where that chutney spread like wildfire. Man, it’s hot. And I eat phall, so I’m not fooling around. As for the insanity spice, which comes its own little container—as near as I can tell it’s just ground chilies, nothing more. Insane indeed.

Yes, the samosa chaat looks a bit of a mess, but the mixture of chickpea-tomato curry, potato-stuffed samosas, cilantro chutney & raita worked for me, swirlingly robust & more properly textured than you’d guess. Think of it as the savory Indian answer to chopping up your birthday cake into melted ice cream.

I blacked out those backgrounds because my kitchen was a mess, & didn’t even bother to snap a shot of the daal I’d reserved for lunch the next day (here’s one thing you should know about ordering from D-Dish: Bombay Bowl’s prices are so low that a normal order for 2 won’t meet the $20 minimum). The lentils didn’t show quite the same flair (perhaps the extra time in the fridge caused the muddying of their flavors, though I don’t see why it should have), & neither did the tikka masala I got on a later delivery, which unfortunately proved rather watery & bland—but the beef was still done right.

Finally, the so-called naan isn’t anything like the real deal—I’m guessing there’s no tandoori oven on site, eh? Rather, it’s a small, flat oval of something more like pita. It’s fine if not exactly as advertised.

Ultimately, if it’s the total Indian-food package you want, Bombay Bowl isn’t your place. If it’s comfort on the fly, you’ll find it here, at least in spots. That’s enough for me, occasionally.

Dish of the Week: “Chilly Potato Zucchini” and more at Jai Ho

I’m your average buffet skeptic—too much, too indistinguishable, too prone to lukewarm mush. But this justifiable critic’s darling in Aurora stands the exception to the rule. On 3 separate visits to the rather sleek & mod Jai Ho, I’ve been privy to a spread that was not only different each time but laden with the unexpectedly intriguing; the multiregional Indian kitchen most certainly does not cater to the LCD.

Not once have I spotted tikka masala in the lineup, for instance; instead I’ve been treated to the likes of the titular dish, that reddish-brown mass at about 10 o’clock (my camera’s still done broke). A rich, delish, layered mélange of breaded zucchini & potato in chili sauce with a heck of a swift kick, it evoked for my companion good old eggplant parm—rightly so. I was also fascinated by the beet fritters at 7 o’clock—crispy-soft little disks whose earthy sweetness was subtle, but detectable. And the samosa chaat at 6 o’clock was like none I’ve ever had—much more finely chopped & integrated, like egg salad in terms of creamy texture. The tomato chutney in the ramekin’s great too, though you half suspect it’s basically curry (the mint’s equally smooth). And so on, & so on—by the 20 or so buffet items I’ve managed to try, I’ve been at least pleased & at best thrilled.

Not pictured is another surprising winner: curd rice. It’s set out at the far end of the buffet with the desserts, so you think it’s a sweet pudding; in fact it’s a savory dish that blends rice with what’s essentially gently spiced cottage cheese. Startling, but ultimately highly soothing.

The two times I’ve been in for lunch, fresh, hot, paper-thin, crêpe-like dosai stuffed with aromatic curried potatoes & onions were brought straight to table; at dinner, they were on the buffet—where they were done no favors, it seemed to me, by the steam-table set-up. Proceed with caution or order them à la carte.

I’ve also dipped into the regular menu (which goes on & on), & though I didn’t love the “ECR fish fry” on the left—the tandoori-marinated, pan-fried tilapia was rather dry—the eggplant curry on the right proved a nifty change of pace from the more common baingan bharta; called karaikudi ennai kathirikai, the Chettinad specialty was less creamy/smoky than its Punjabi cousin, more sharp, clear & tart (I believe there’s a touch of tamarind in there).

And all that but scratches the surface. An embarrassment of riches, this place (though pretty awful Indian Shiraz by the glass isn’t, I’m sorry to report, among them).

Jai Ho on Urbanspoon

Dish of the Week: Paneer Phall from India Tavern

Jesus G. Tallulah, at least vindaloo has the contours of flavor. Phall, which appears to be of Anglo-Indian origin, has nothing to do with it. Actually, India Tavern’s menu says it well:

“An excruciatingly hot curry, more pain & sweat than flavor. For our customers who do this on a dare, we will require you to state a verbal disclaimer not holding us liable for any physical or emotional damage after eating this. If you do manage to finish your serving, a bottle of beer is on us.”

Wish they’d said it as well to my face, but since I ordered delivery from d-dish, I received neither aid nor ale. And you bet they owe me a brew, because even though it’s totally unpleasant, phall is also intensely, physically addictive; I always manage to polish it off.

My own suggestion is to order it with mild, spongy cubes of the fresh cheese known as paneer, which at least provide milliseconds of respite from the lip-blistering, throat-searing curry. Forget balance; there are no salty, sweet, or sour notes—just a chili pall cast over all. But since it seems to lift within a few moments, you’re left with an endorphin rush that keeps you going back for more.

I say “seems” because a couple of hours afterward, your gut tells you in no uncertain terms the chili hasn’t dissipated at all. At that point it’s pretty much hacking away at your intestinal lining with a flaming machete.

Guaranteed, however, that months from now, I’ll have forgotten all that misery & I’ll order it yet again.

 

 

Now on Gorging Global: Egg Curry at India’s Castle & A Chance to Win Jen Jasinski’s New Cookbook!

So far as I can figure, the egg curry I praised in my current review of India’s Castle over at Denver Magazine’s The Mouthful is offered at only one other restaurant in the area, namely Indiä’s Restäüränt (I swear that’s how they spell it) near Tamarac Square. So read all about it & get a taste of owner Jagdish Singh’s imported beer selection to boot.

Then put your belly where your mouth is with the QOTW: what’s the most you’ve ever eaten at a buffet? Best response by Monday will get you a signed copy of Jen Jasinski’s gorgeous new cookbook, A Perfect Bite!

Speaking of perfect bites, I also heart the mouth-puckeringly salty-sour side of mixed pickle Singh offers—even if it does come from a can exactly like this one (he showed me).

Spill It, Kids: What’s the Hottest Dish You Ever Ate—& Could You Stand the Heat?

That’s the Question of the Week on my recent Gorging Global blogpost about India’s Pearl over at Denver Magazine’s The Mouthful. Pop over there to get the scoop on this Old South Pearl spot, including the honey-roasted rack of lamb pictured below,

IPrackoflamb
& tell us all: was it Szechuan hot pot? Jamaican jerk? Cambodian Crying Tiger? Cochinita pibil from the Yucatán peninsula? Whatever it was, did you plow through it, hyperventilating all the way, or take 1 bite & drop momentarily dead?

Best answer gets to choose which cuisine I tackle in an upcoming post. Bring it on.

Dish of the Week: saag paneer (& more) at Sherpa House

Given their closely linked histories & habitats in the Himalayas—& given mainstream America’s (mainstream anywhere’s) tendency to hew to the familiar—it’s no surprise that many Tibetan & Nepalese restaurateurs include northern Indian staples in their repertoires. What was a surprise, at least to me, was that my favorite dish at Sherpa House would be an Indian rather than Tibetan or Nepalese standard—& that I’d think it better than any version I’ve had in local Indian joints: saag paneer.

What differentiated it from the usual was its extreme freshness & lightness. The average Indian kitchen tends to engage in batch cookery, its curries & such developing their flavors over hours—sometimes to a robust intensity, sometimes past the point of muddiness. While I’m not assuming that Sherpa House does otherwise, the fact that I was there at lunch may have ensured the vegetarian classic hadn’t been simmering too long: the spinach still tasted as leafy-in-sunlight as its color, the fresh cheese maintained its springy, tofulike texture, & the zest of lemon & nutmeg was distinct.

SHsaagpaneer
The leftovers were even better; left to sit not over heat but in the fridge, the ingredients melded further, became richer, without overcooking into undistinguished mush.

In any case, it was a refreshing choice for an al fresco meal on Sherpa House’s back patio this gorgeous day—but the interior, it should be noted, is utterly lovely too, filled with the intricate bric-a-brac of Nepal.

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Check out the recreation of a traditional Sherpa kitchen above. Though none are visible in the photo, Indian-style clay ovens are used by cooks across the Himalayan region; Sherpa House’s “sizzlers,” still breathing steam as they arrived in their cast-iron pan, are essentially tandoori platters, the meat—in this case yak—marinated & roasted in yogurt & traditional spices (cumin, coriander, ginger & such) along with peppers & red onion. They’re accompanied by a yogurt sauce strangely reminiscent of avgolemono (the famous Greek egg-&-lemon soup that is, however, yogurt-free).

SHyakSHyogurtsauce

Yak is apparently very lean, hence quick to toughen; this unfortunately was, the chunks real jaw-twisters. Their flavor, however, was wonderful, the lamblike gaminess highlighted by the piquancy of the spices & bright squirts of lemon (oddly roasted with the meat, making for hot-to-handle wedges).

What I liked best about Sherpa House’s momos (dumplings)—steamed vegetable on the left, fried beef on the right—

SHvegmomos SHbeefmomos

was the abundance of chopped onion, cabbage & such inside; combined with the fresh tomato sauce, they, like the saag, exhibited an unexpectedly springy lightness.

Speaking of lightness, as reviews go, this is a bit scant; I’ve barely made a dent in the menu. But the 1st impression was pleasurable enough to ensure I’ll get a 2nd one soon.

Sherpa House Restaurant on Urbanspoon

By Jeeves, I think India Oven’s Got It

Given the good 1st impression By Jeeves made on us a few weeks ago even as Hapa Sushi was making a rather poor one, & considering how much we like our couch, the Director & I recently delved into delivery discovery again by ordering via the online/phone service from India Oven. It’s a place I’d often wondered about, tucked into its little corner at the south end of the University Hills Plaza, but I could just never overcome my intense fear of nearby Tuesday Morning to make it through the front door.

Well, color me pink with pleasure. Not only was the By Jeeves ordering process once again easy as pie—or at least doodhi halvah (teehee)!—but the order itself was delish enough to repeat the whole transaction a few days later, to only slightly diminished delight.

For one thing, if skimping on takeout/delivery is (at least in my perhaps cynicism-skewed experience) a bit more likely than not, the folks at India Oven buck the norm by adding a few nicely spiced pieces of pappadum to every order along with 3-count-’em-3 dipping sauces: mint chutney, tamarind chutney & raita that, in a new-to-me twist, comes laced with julienned carrots. With our 2nd meal, they even threw in 2 containers of rice: 1 plain basmati, the other saffron, both properly fluffy & aromatic.

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For another thing, the salmon saag is a thing of beauty.

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A, there’s no skimping on the firm, moist, almost sweet-fleshed fish. B, there’s no telling exactly what’s in the saag that makes its flavor so complexly rich—but I’d swear it’s a touch more than its share of ghee.

Though he ordered it hot, the Director’s daal tarka wasn’t simply chilefied—it was earthy & gingery too. Or, in his words, “fuckin’ scrumptious.” (That’s garlic naan on the side;

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me, I really dig the kabuli naan,

IOnaan

evenly but not overly studded with dates & nuts to prove lightly sweet, not dessert-pizzalike.)

I forgot to snap the kadai paneer, but it looked a lot like this blogger’s, whose handsome photo I’ve swiped. Full of tomatoes, onions & green peppers—the latter bordering on al dente—it was lighter & fresher-tasting than most curries, & gently scented with cinnamon. I suspect, in short, that it was a very fine example of the dish, if slightly less to my personal taste than its deeper, richer counterparts.

Kadhai_paneer1

Lamb vindaloo, for example, usually is to my taste, provided it doesn’t obliterate my ability to taste anything beyond the first bite—but the Director’s was oversalted & the meat tough, making for the only real disappointment of the bunch.

IOvindaloo

Still, overall, India Oven is already 2nd only to India’s Pearl (on which you’ll find much here) in my official book. Guess I’d better get over my nervousness around Mammy Dolls & Family Legacy Bibles & whatnot & check the place out in person.

India Oven on Urbanspoon

Aroma Cafe & Grill: Hey, it doesn’t stink at all! To the contrary…

***UPDATE: Aroma Cafe & Grill is CLOSED.***

So wow. Midweek I came down with wine flu, which has been swell, because all I’ve had to do is lie around & moan & stay out of sight of the madding crowds likely in their mask-clad panic to mistake wine flu with swine flu & order in to my heart’s content.

A few months back, I’d dropped in on Aroma Cafe & Grill—successor to Pita Jungle on DU’s little campus corner—only to leave shrugging over a menu that then seemed basic to the point of indifference, all tikka-pita tit-for-tat; now, upon accessing its website via a link in an online guide to halal dining after surfing the Web in a Dayquil daze for who knows how long, I found a short but far sweeter Med-Indian mishmash of a menu promising the kind of spice with the muscle to burrow a tunnel through the mud of sick in my esophagus. Greek skordalia (here called simply “garlic dip”), for instance—in which fresh garlic is mashed with potatoes in olive oil & lemon—sounded like just the phlegm-blaster.

I didn’t know the half of it.

Agarlicdip2

For all its seemingly odd texture—a tad gelatinous, almost like processed yogurt—the mouthfeel was nice & creamy; for all its creaminess, however, the garlic bits were a-bundled like dynamite sticks ignited with the bright flame of fresh lemon juice. It was enough to make me fan my mouth with my hand—& then scoop up all the more with decent pita (take that, Jerusalem), & fan, & scoop, & fan & scoop.

I wish I could say the same for the Chicken 65—not quite correctly described as “Indian-style chicken nuggets”—or rather, I wish I could say less for it. Even with my besnotted palate, the appetizer of cubed chicken in lava with fresh curry leaves was too awesomely spicy for me. I kept trying to eat it, but then my face would dissolve in sweat, & it’s almost impossible to eat without a face.

Achicken65

Almost as spicy was the mutton pepper fry, a “dry preparation of lamb flavored with pepper, dry coconut & cilantro”;

Alamb

indeed a touch dry—the meat itself, that is—it was otherwise terrific: freshly, fully, unexpectedly complexly aromatic.

The lone softie was honey gobi—cauliflower in honey-garlic sauce.

Acauli

Though I expected neither the cauliflower to be breaded nor the sauce to be that jellied, & it might have seemed a little much under other circumstances, it offered welcome shelter from the chilied killers chasing our tastebuds. And, come to think of it, it didn’t seem too much the next day when I snarfed the leftovers.

That wasn’t long before I placed a delivery order for the 2nd night in a row, when the Director had a social obligation that didn’t require my pestilent presence. Still really sick but not so drug-addled, I craved comfort more than exhilaratingly rude awakening. So I went with good old hummus—

Ahummus2

while I like mine much lemonier, the little drops of oil, as they mixed with the sprinkle of paprika, coalesced into a pretty little bow on top—and good old saag paneer, which wasn’t: rather, it was unusually, & pleasingly, spinach-milky, onion-juicy & cumin-perfumed.

Asaag

Intrigued by the sound of a dish I’d never heard of, chicken noorjahani—”dry nuts, raisins, ginger, cilantro & lemon juice stuffed in boneless cumin-flavored chicken”—I got that too. Disappointed as I was in the careless presentation—not least because the order came with a separate container of rice as it was, such that the mound here seemed like cheap filler—

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the chicken itself was delicious, tandoori-charred yet moist with its crunchy-chewy, tangy-sweet filling.

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Googling “noorjahani,” I’ve discovered that Noor Jehan was a gorgeous actress-singer from Pakistan (then British India). So I’m not entirely clear as to whether the recipe’s origins are northern Indian, Pakistani, or what. All I know for sure is I’ve got a lot more to learn about Aroma altogether—as much info as my mouth can transmit to my brain.

Nota bene: Special props go to the guy who took & delivered our orders, since apparently he had to get special permission to deliver beyond the confines of the DU campus—going to prove the website’s claim that “the Customer service [has been] greately Improved” since the change of hands.

Aroma Cafe & Grill on Urbanspoon

FOUND: goat curry in Denver! LOST: my shit. Thanks, India’s Pearl!

A week or so ago I was blindsided by a craving for goat curry
that the
sketchiest of preliminary research
indicated was bound to go
unfulfilled so long as I remained in this here city’s limits. I’d
been limping along ever since.

So it was with hot thrilled squeaks that I received the news,
while lounging upstairs at India’s Pearl with the Director
& Mo (whom you may remember for her dear
Yuletide tirade
), that the chef is now whipping up none other
than my caprine dream—2 versions thereof, in fact, like my
caprine dream were a fantasy about bunny twins.

The 1st our waiter—the
same guy
who serenaded an audience of, basically, us on the
karaoke machine between serving duties awhile back—called simply
“goat curry,” which struck me as masala-esque; Mo noted later it
“wasn’t as spicy as I would’ve thought…plenty of bold flavors
though.”

IPgoatcurry

The boldest of which may have been the goat itself, which I like
to think of as the duck of ungulates—its meat being especially
dark & fatty, it only reinforced the richness of the creamy,
cashewy korma my own version came a-swimming in.

IPgoatkorma

Because he’s like Mary with the damn lamb, or rather the
anti-Mary since wherever lamb goes, he’s sure to follow, the
Director had to get my goat & get some lamb instead. Even
he’d had his fill of vindaloo, however, having ordered it
incessantly of late, so the server suggested the lamb sali
boti—again, your basic (which isn’t to say blah; as I’ve said
before, India’s Pearl’s are the best I’ve had in Denver)
tomato-&-onion-based curry, with the kicker of fried shredded
spud on top.

IPlambsaliboti

Googling “lamb sali boti,” intriguingly enough, yields recipe
after recipe that also includes apricot, of which we caught
neither hide nor hair, or in this case fleece, nor does the menu
mention jardaloo (i.e.,
apparently, apricot). The potato topping alone, however, added a
whole new dimension, especially as it sunk in & became part
of the mélange.

IPlambnaan

Lamb-sprinkled keema naan is sheer minimalist pizza. Dip chunks
into raita or cilantro chutney if sauce is a must, although if
you ask me the naan’s ghee sheen suffices nicely.


IPswordfishpakora

The only disappointment to date, & by now I’ve plucked my
share of pearls from this this wall-to-wall jewelry case of a
menu, was the swordfish pakora, its batter altogether too heavy.

Not to grouse in the least about a place that garnered my vote
from the get-go for best Indian joint in town; now that it’s got
goat to boot, it may warrant a nomination for coolest joint in
town of any ethnic stripe.

The Coupon Clippings: Oh, Little India, just wait til you grow big & strong!

Actually, it’s the size of Denver, not the subcontinent, that warrants consideration here—at least in light of the fact that, by default, this enduring metro mini-chain constitutes the biggest fish in our quiet little Indian-restaurant pond. From the standpoint of quality, however, it hardly rises like a beautiful breaching dolphin from the vast & murky stateside sea of batch-cooked curries.

In other words (to keep those metaphors flowing), the banks of this little mile-high fishing hole need broadening. And maybe they’ll get it; now that the far more sophisticated India’s Pearl is circling, smelling blood, maybe joints like Little India will gradually sink (or get swallowed) or swim. But judging by the meal we recently had delivered from the S. Downing branch (using a coupon for 10% off), at present it’s just treading.

Mind you, in so doing it produces a solid example of Indian cuisine as most Americans understand & want it—Punjabi comfort food on a spectrum ranging from moderately authentic to mostly pseudo. Take our pals’ chicken tikka masala, whose origins, while uncertain, are most likely British.

LIchickenmasala

Basically what we’re talking here is chicken in tomato cream sauce. Minus the standard Indian spicing, it could be Italian pollo con sugo di pomodoro alla crema, or French poulet sauce aurore, or 100 other dishes from around the world. For that matter, it could be lamb masala (for which said apparently masalamaniac pals also opted).

LIlambmasala

Because under a foot of sauce, even when we’re talking lamb, we might as well be talking chicken, for all the impact the meat has on flavor.

Ditto the Director’s lamb vindaloo, which, sadly, doesn’t really come tilted at a 45-degree angle.

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But it does come oversauced—or, rather, undermeated. It isn’t a question of ethnic authenticity so much as kitchen generosity; next to this,

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for instance, it looks less like lamb vindaloo than just, you know, vindaloo. Tastewise, meanwhile, it was more like vindal, hold the ooh. I mean, it was hot, but not so hot I couldn’t eat it, which is pretty much the defining characteristic of a proper vindaloo as I understand it: something I don’t have the guts in any sense to go through with.

As for my lamb saag,

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its mildly cumin-smoky creaminess was lovely enough, but again, I simply prefer more lamb & spinach in my lamb & spinach, as opposed to more yogurt (cf.

Saag ).

Finally, the mixed grill turned out to be a mixed bag: the chicken too tough, the fish too dry, the shrimp—while surprising juicy next to the fish—too few, numbering 2. The more abundant seekh kebab, however, was also moist & spiced right.

LImixedgrill

In sum, Little India strikes me as a euphemism for Stunted India. Unless management grows the balls to expand the kitchen’s horizons—&, since they’re doing just fine ball-less, I doubt they will at my lone behest—I’ll stick with India’s Pearl, mature beyond its years (months, rather) in its willingness to offer something (pages of somethings, in fact) different.

Little India on Urbanspoon