One of the things about being a part of the global community is that friends from other countries are constantly giving me suggestions for restaurants. At dinner a few weeks ago, I had discussion with a friend about a high-end restaurant in Chicago proper that does an outstanding job blending Indian and Latin flavours. She had then told me about a restaurant that had recently opened in Hoffman Estate, Illinois, named Bombay Chopsticks at 721 W. Golf Road. The name had given me an idea of what one could expect if going to the restaurant for some food happiness. I immediately associated Bombay with India and chopsticks with Japan. No sooner had she mentioned the restaurant than I entered a date into my calendar so that I could see what Bombay Chopsticks has on its menu.
It was out to the Northwest Suburbs on a beautiful yet brisk Saturday morning so that I could be certain of beating the crowd. Upon entering Bombay Chopsticks, I felt as though I was at a lounge. There is a full bar at the entrance. When you go past the bar and around the corner, there is a large area for seating and the decor is definitely inviting. There are comfy booths, which are perfect for dates. There are enough table seats for parties of four or more. The lighting inside was ideal in that going as a single person does not make you feel as though you are in an intimate setting; there was no mood lighting giving that effect. Led to a table by an accommodating hostess who was okay with me having my pick of seats because I was going to photograph my food — par for the course — I had a feeling that everything was going to be just fine this afternoon.
As usual in Pan-Asian cuisine, this time there being Indian and East Asian, the menu is extensive. The pescatarian in me scanned the menu for vegetarian and seafood options, so I had narrowed down my choices. Now, not that I was difficult, but I was rather eccentric with my order. There were three entrées that I wanted. That being the case, appetizers were not an option. There were two vegetarian dishes and one seafood dish that turned my food alarm on. When placing my order, I told the waitress that I wanted three entrées, each to be served as small tastes, with the rest packed for me to take home. She had recommended salt and pepper okra, shrimp in chilli garlic tomato sauce, and baby potatoes Thai style. I complied and while I waited for the experience to begin, I sipped some rather refreshing mango juice.
The waitress had placed the order linearly. Instead of having everything come to the table at once only to get cold, the first entrée arrive at the table was the salt and pepper okra. As a lover of gumbo, which is full of okra of the slimy nature, I was anxious to see how fried okra would taste in a salt and pepper batter. Much like some salt and pepper chicken I have had at a Vietnamese restaurant and salt and pepper soft shell crab I have had at a Pan-Asian restaurant recently, this fried okra dish reminded me of both in a “precious memories” kind of way. Spicy the way I like peppery food and served with crispy noodles and steamed rice, I was grateful that the first recommendation had won me over.
There was a bit of timing between the first entrée and the second one. This was to allow a moment of rest before the second course. Next to the table was a bowl of shrimp in a chilli garlic tomato sauce. This dish was closer to Indian and what I recalled during a visit to Bombay several years ago — although the dish I had eaten in Bombay was filled with fish rather than shrimp. At any rate, the shrimp in this bowl of satisfaction were plump to the point where they really did burst in my mouth when I bit into them. The sauce was spicy in a divine way. I cannot say that most people would be okay with the pepper dancing around their tongue and jaws, but it was outstanding to me. Eaten with rice to minimize some of the pepper, this was yet another suggestion that was a winner.
We allowed for more time between the second entrée and the third entrée. Granted the portions were small, as I was taking the remaining portion of the entrées home, they were still filling. Once I gave the signal, the order was placed and the third dish came to the table in the form of baby potatoes prepared Thai style. This was another spicy dish that was prepared in a gravy that had peanuts and a bit of a kick to it. Not really being a fan of any kind of nuts — except for almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, and pine nuts — I made no fuss about the peanuts in the dish and I ate it with the steam rice that came with it. There was a moment of complete satisfaction to be acknowledged as I worked my fork and spoon on the rice and the baby potatoes in the Thai gravy. By the time I had completed this dish, I was incredibly grateful that the waitress had given three fantastic recommendations because, as I had mentioned, the menu was filled with a large selection of choices.
Customary but not necessary was dessert. There was a bit of time that I let pass before I had decided to indulge something sweet to the palate. I ordered crispy noodles drizzled with honey and accented with sesame seeds and two scoops of vanilla ice cream. I put honey in my tea, in my yogurt, and in my honey chocolate cake, but having it served over crispy noodles and ice cream was new. And let me just say that this was a new experience that I enjoyed to the point of rapture. And now that I think of it, the only other time I have had a dessert with similar ingredients was an Ethiopian restaurant where they drizzled chocolate instead of honey over the ice cream and crispy noodles. However, having it today really made me that more appreciative of having an experimental palate.
Usually I have a tendency to avoid restaurants that receive too many negative reviews. The experience actually comes in three parts: what you put into it by being open to trying something different, your positive interaction with your server, and what you want to get out of it different from what you have already had before. On entrance into Bombay Chopsticks, I was greeted with a welcome. My server was the epitome of outstanding customer service and attentiveness, as well as knowledgeable enough to recommend three dishes to a stranger, which is what I was when I sat at the table. Be forewarned that the prices range from $12 to $15 for the entrées. Also be aware that the flavours can be overpowering if your palate is accustomed to milder dishes. Yes, you can order the food milder, but there is more pop when the spices are added as they are in the dishes natively. As I had initially thought of India and Japan, I found that there is a bit of East Asia with hints of Indian preparations added. There are no duelling spices, so whichever ethnicity is represented in the recipe is allowed to shine. Before I departed Bombay Chopsticks with the remainder of my entrées, I sent a text message to my friend to thank her for prompting me about the restaurant and I made a mental note to myself that I shall find my way back out to Hoffman Estates in the near future for another restaurant jaunt at Bombay Chopsticks. This was a positive experience.