***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.
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.
Almost as spicy was the mutton pepper fry, a “dry preparation of lamb flavored with pepper, dry coconut & cilantro”;
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.
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—
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.
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—
the chicken itself was delicious, tandoori-charred yet moist with its crunchy-chewy, tangy-sweet filling.
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.