Leena Eats This Blog has the distinction of being the last guest poster before I start subjecting you to my writing again, with a restaurant review that makes me REALLY miss living in Chicago. Looking at her gorgeous pix helps me forget the heinous Adam Lambert performance that just happened on American Idol. Seriously, America? The overgrown emo theater nerd? Whatever: Indian food. Yum. Enjoy.
Hi. I’m Leena from Leena Eats This Blog.
As in, NOT Michelle.
As in, sexy ass Indian chick with an unhealthy obsession with bacon.
If I were Michael Ruhlman, the ratio for this blog post would be 3:1:1
3 parts Leena: 1 part Michelle: 1 part curry powder
Michelle needed a bit of help blogging this week, and I was oh so honored to help out. Just between you and me, Michelle is one funny bitch that I am SO not worthy to replace, even temporarily. It’d be like trying to replace Crystal Pepsi or Sweatin’ to the Oldies. Perfect the first time, so why even bother?
But the show must go on…
And it must eat Indian food—a crap ton of it—in matching stainless steel serving platters and bowls. Pack your saris and Gas-x folks, cuz we’re heading to Devon Avenue in Chicago, or Little India to those “in the know” (“in the know” meaning brown people and vegetarians).
First, I’d like to offer a little history on the area, being that I’m gastronomically smart and kick-ass to boot. Little India is on Devon Avenue, which is pretty much the craziest, most ethnically packed stretch of road you will find in Chicago. It’s really more of a Baskin Robbins-sort of collection of neighborhoods, with 31 ethnic flavors. From west to east, you got your Orthodox Jews, your Russian Americans, then your Indian Americans, your Pakistani Americans, and last but not least, your Bangladeshi Americans.
As far back as I can remember, which is pretty much around 1985, my Indian father has been taking me to Devon Avenue to shop for saris, Indian groceries and the best damn mango lassi this side of the Atlantic. I’ve always been a big fan of Indian sweets and drinks like chai and lassi, but most Indian food I’ve had has only made me…uncomfortable. Perhaps it is the strong spices, perhaps it’s the mandatory half pound of ghee (clarified butter) required to start any Indian recipe, but when I leave most Indian restaurants, I feel like I have an Indian baby made of naan and tandoori chicken in my belly. For like, two days.
And it makes me feel like a bad half-Indian because it makes me want to never eat Indian food.
But then my family and I tried Bhabi’s Kitchen. Actually, my brother has been trying to get me there for years, but re: Indian food baby, I have always been hesitant. Now, I see things a bit more clearly. I was just being a dumb whore.
There were so many things to like about this place. Like the décor.
Happy, bright, celebratory colors like magenta, teal and orange were all over the walls, and not a Bollywood poster in sight. I was particularly thankful for that, because I am of the belief that there are very few attractive Indian men in the world, and Bollywood posters only support that theory.
Also to like? The jolly, robust Indian woman that looked like she could be one of my aunts. She informed us that the meal would take a while to make because it was from scratch and they really didn’t rock out on the prep work. That was the first sign this meal might be awesome.
The menu looked like every other menu on Devon, so we ordered our usuals and few extras. The first thing that actually arrived at our table was my cup of chai, and that was 20 minutes into our time at the table. A PROPER chai. A chai my Indian grandma would be proud of. Sign #2 of food awesomeness to come.
Shortly after my chai, vegetable and beef samosas arrived on the table, with three sauces: a yoghurt sauce, a sweet plum chutney, and a cilantro garlicky sauce that I totally should know the name of but don’t because—again—I’m a bad half-Indian. The samosas were flakey, crisp, and surprisingly delicious.
And I hate samosas—I didn’t even eat the ones at my own wedding. They are usually dry and crumbly, but these were moist. The veggie had a nice potato to other vegetable ratio, and the beef was a pleasant surprise.
Two kinds of naan followed the samosas, a plain naan (shown earlier), and this garlic naan.
This was like no naan I had ever had before. Instead of being flakey, chewy and crisp from the sides of the tandoori oven, like all the other naans on Devon Avenue, this was more like a pizza bread. It was more caramelized on bottom, like a pizza, and was crisp and yet slightly fluffy. Both styles were delicious. I’m not sure if that was just another style of Indian bread made in a tandoori, but it was a refreshing change.
Next came the butter shrimp.
This dish was a total shock to me. Instead of tasting like your basic butter-anything in the Indian kitchen, which is like a sweeter tomato cream sauce, this butter sauce had depth—it tasted almost caramelized. The sauce was rich, but not overwhelming, and really complimented the shrimp. I was dipping into this sauce with my naan long after the shrimp were gone. I got no shame, so don’t be hatin’, yo.
The channa masala was a very flavorful version of the chickpea curry I was used to. Typically, channa masala is so damn spicy, I can barely choke it down, but this dish had a nice balance of flavor and heat.
The aloo palak (spinach and potatoes) that usually tastes gluey on your average Devon Avenue Indian buffet tasted rich and vibrant, sort of like an Indian creamed spinach.
Last was the chicken boti, or tandoori chicken breast. We tried to order the whole tandoori chicken, but apparently you have to “call in advance” for that sort of thing. These breasts were juicy, slightly charred on the edges, and, with a squirt of a lemon, just about the most freaking DELICIOUS chicken I have ever put in my pie hole.
We finished the meal with a little carrot hulva, which is a traditional Indian dessert made of shredded carrot cooked down with ½ pound of ghee, sugar, condensed milk, and cardamom. Like the rest of the meal, this was delicious and just slightly different from every other carrot hulva I have ever had.
And to top it all off? No Indian food baby afterward. Bhabi’s Kitchen, why are you rocking my world so fucking hard?! Seriously, you need to stop. I didn’t bring any motion sickness pills.
I have found it—an Indian restaurant I am proud to call home. Maybe I’m not such a bad half-Indian after all.
6352 N. Oakley Ave.
Chicago, IL 60659
Hell’s bells. I don’t even much LIKE Indian food and I’m wanting to go there. Must look in to that carrot hulvah thing.
Michelle — not that your guest posters have not been great and so on, and I’ve added some blogs to my “regular read” list due to ’em, but I’ll just be real proud to have you back.
God, I want Indian food now. Or to move to Chicago. Or, ideally, both.
And it’s heartening to hear that you’re feeling up to posting again, Michelle.
For reals, that might be the most unusual and most photographic garlic nan I’ve ever seen.
OMG – everything looked wonderful!
Whoa, I’ve been going to Devon for years and I’m a white suburban guy. Devon is absolutely fascinating but I’ve been underwhelmed by the restaurants. Thanks for the post, now I have a place to try on Devon. The pics make me hungry.
I know where I’m heading this weekend. Great post! Thanks for the tip!
I don’t know shit about Indian food, but DAMN!!! This looks like something I could seriously get into. I’m going to be in Chicago for a couple of days this summer. I’m definitely putting Bhabi’s Kitchen on my list.