Himshikar Restaurant, Nepal Comes to Chicago

Himshikar Restaurant

After a grueling week of work, I was in a mood for an immediate divorce from the mad grind of being attached to the computer. Friday night, and I had met with two friends for dinner. Believe me when I say that there was no slow easing out of what was a maniacal work week. No, it was an immediate escape. We started with a flight of whiskey cocktails, moved into indulging a few entrées, and then wrapped up with a flight of desserts and coffee. Let’s just say that as soon as my head touched my pillow when I got home, I slept as peacefully as I did when I was gassed before having my wisdom teeth pulled. Oh, that was NOT a bad experience.

Papadum

Papadum

Well, wouldn’t you believe that I awoke with an angry appetite the next morning? Being a bachelor, my refrigerator is empty, with the exception of my Brita bottle of water. There is no way to stop the bitter grumble of my belly with nothing in my refrigerator to ease the growling. I had such a hankering for some Indian food and not wanting to go to Devon Avenue, I was beginning to fret. Ah, Google, and it’s display of some Nepalese restaurant north of where I live, I had a recommendation in hand. So, it was off to Himshikar Restaurant at 6031 N. Cicero Avenue in the Sauganash neighbourhood of Chicago.

Shrimp Til Tinka

Shrimp Til Tinka

I arrived at noon, shortly after the restaurant had opened for business. It seems to be my luck that when I get to restaurants, they are teeming with patrons and wait times are long. With Himshikar Restaurant not being in the midst of pedestrian chaos and congestion, I had my pick of a seat and a menu in hand. Having made my selection from the menu, I pulled out my camera, made the necessary adjustments for the lighting, and sat in preparation for finally putting an end to the incessant grumbling of my belly. When I had finished a few test shots of the complementary papadum, one of the owners came over and talked to me about my Nikon D90. He, too, is a photographer and uses a Nikon D800. Talk about different people finding a common ground.

Aloo Makhani, Poori, Basmati Rice

Aloo Makhani, Poori, Basmati Rice

For a starter, I had shrimp til tinka. Shrimp lightly fried and skewered on sticks sat long enough for me capture their impressions for the blog. And then I left teeth impressions on all six of them. There was actually a wow factor to the shrimp that I always experience at Japanese and seafood restaurants. The fact that they came on sticks had already put me in the mind of having yakitori. The flavour of each shrimp, without any excessive seasoning, made them all a hit. Then came aloo makhani, basmati rice, and poori. Having had chicken makhani, paneer makhani, and daal makhani countless times before, I wanted to try it with potatoes instead. There are not enough words to describe how satisfying each mouthful was. Because I had ordered the aloo makhani spicy, there was a proper kick to it that the rice and poori balanced out fantastically. Although I was left speechless as to what words to find to describe how much I was in love with my lunch offerings, my belly apparently was experiencing the same sentiments — because it has finally shut up.

Himshikar Restaurant is one of those gems that surprises you by leaps and bounds. With it not being lost among the Little India mall of shops, I had no idea that it had been in business for a little over two years. And I have said countless times that you cannot go into just any American restaurant and engage the staff in conversation with the greatest of ease. The food was out of this world, but I spent a great deal of time having conversation with one of the owners who sat across from me at an adjoining table and launched into banter very casually. It ceased to feel like I had gone to a restaurant, but rather to someone’s home who I knew well. I don’t have a problem going to friends’ homes, which means that I will return to Himshikar Restaurant regularly for all the good things I may not get in Nepal — that is, until I make that almighty trip abroad.

Himshikar Nepali and Indian cuisine on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Information


* Restaurant Name
Himshikar Restaurant
* Overall
★★★☆☆
* Neighborhood / Cuisine
Albany Park
* Street Address
6031 North Cicero Avenue, Chicago, IL 60646
* Phone
(773) 481-2003

Starting 2014 Spicy, The Indian Garden

Daal Soup

Daal Soup

Calendar year 2013 went out on a good note for me. I brought my weight back down to a manageable 205 pounds. My physician was rather happy about that. Considering all of the food I ate last year, I am surprised that I got down to 205 only. However, it seems that I may have to keep my weight in the range of 200 to 205 pounds. My weight gain ironed out all potential wrinkles that were starting at the corner of my eyes, under my eyes, and across my forehead. Now all I have to do is maintain a low stress level to ensure those wrinkles don’t creep up on my face. My glucose level is still a concern and that feeds into my New Years Absolution: no desserts. Ugh! Where my health is concerned, I won’t run around whining, “It’s so hard eliminating sweets from my diet.”

Naan

Naan

This year started out with Chicago being subjected to sub-zero temperatures. We had a week and a few days of feeling like the city should have been renamed Chiberia. I dressed in my construction man outfit for warmth. Let me be the first to say that construction coveralls are a winter blessing. In addition to the arctic freeze in Chicago, I had to travel some for work. Nothing beats traveling to another city with warmer temperatures and then wind up bitter when having to return to bitter Chicago. The good news is the assurance that some restaurant’s doors would be opened for business and I would enjoy some culinary satisfaction inside where the heat is no doubt turned up to at least 75 degrees. Such was the case when I trudged through snow, across ice, and through downtown wind tunnels — between our numerous skyscrapers — to The Indian Garden at 518 W. Harrison Street in Chicago’s Near South Loop.

Baigan Bharta

Baigan Bharta

I had been to The Indian Garden for lunch with some colleagues during autumn of 2013 and was slightly nonplussed. I love Indian food in all of its spicy glory. The lunch buffet was for the milder palate. Sigh. I smiled as I spooned a bit of this and a bit of that on my plate. A few month later, I returned to get take-away after work. When I got home and devoured a plate of bhindi masala, choley, and shrimp achari, I swore off going to The Indian Garden for their lunch buffet. My personal pact was to go for the after-five fare. And because the take-away was so blooming tasty, I returned for an in-house dining experience.

Daal soup. Baigan bharta. Curry shrimp. Naan. Masala Chai. WOW!!!

Curry Shrimp

Curry Shrimp

The daal soup was a perfect winter soup. There was, of course, the spicy factor that draws me to Indian restaurants. The beauty of this soup was that I didn’t get just a cup of it. No, I had a bowl of the hearty dish and a faint hint of heat rising from my scalp. Put a footnote there. I love spicy food. For my entrées, I really showed how much of an appetite I have. I ordered baigan bharta and curry shrimp. To date, I have not been to any Indian restaurant that had baigan bharta that made me want to run out into the street to meet my match with a renegade Chicago taxi drive. The creamed eggplant at The Indian Garden ranks high on my list of dishes that everyone should try. The curry shrimp left me speechless. As I am getting back to having a serious pescatarian diet, the shrimp curry was a cacophony of flavour, but I felt as though I had not ordered enough. So, I ordered extra to take home. With the basmati rice and tandoori naan, I was Gino in the Sky with Curry. And for my wrap-up, I ordered a masala chai that I drank without any sugar. Yes, it was that good.

Baigan Bharta, Basmati Rice, Curry Shrimp, Naan

Baigan Bharta, Basmati Rice, Curry Shrimp, Naan

The Indian Garden has one other location: 2546 W. Devon Avenue in West Rogers Park. In the same manner as the Near South Loop location, the food is outstanding and the service is remarkable. The location at 518 W. Harrison Street is more intimate than the West Rogers Park spot. From my experiences visiting each, and discounting the first visit for the lunch buffet, I cannot come up with a reason to miss out on all the delectable menu items that your taste buds can endure. Bernadine at 2546 W. Devon Avenue, Stephen at 518 W. Harrison Street, the staff at both sites, and the flavourful dishes that come forth from their kitchens make The Indian Garden a constant destination — or rather a constant destination for me and my constant hunger.

Masala Chai

Masala Chai

Indian Garden on Urbanspoon

Bismillah, Let Him Go

Bismillah

Every time I go back to London, I return to America with my pores exhaling curry, cumin, and other spices found in Indian food. London has a large Indian population and with that comes the best Indian food outside of India. Chicago doesn’t fall too far behind in having a plethora of restaurants representative of the flavours of India. I exude curry since I am constantly in any one of the Indian cafes on Devon Street. If you are a diligent foodist like me, you will manage to discover some fooderies that are not on any main stretch or within sniffing distance. For example, with traffic being incredibly congested in a section of the North Side — in Edgewater to be exact — I had to snake my way down a side street to avoid sitting still. And what to my surprise should I spy at 6301 N. Ridge Avenue but a hole-in-the-wall by the name of Bismillah. It had to have been serendipity because I was listening to “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen at the very same time I spotted the restaurant. Imagine that.

Vegetable Samosas

Vegetable Samosas

In true hole-in-the-wall fashion, Bismillah will not win any awards for interior decoration. And if you go to the restaurant for aesthetics, you may be too caught up in cosmetics to enjoy the good food that Bismillah serves. While at the counter, I scanned the one menu that was available and placed my order. I was not going to waste my time playing like a curious eater while fighting the temptation to jump behind the counter and start attacking the tasty food that I could see being cooked in the open kitchen. I ordered two vegetable samosas and chicken boti. The two fist-size samosas came with a mint sauce. I mashed up the samosa, poured a nice amount of the mint sauce on them, and handled my business. I smiled. When the skewered, boneless pieces of chicken that looked and tasted like tandoori chicken arrived at the table with basmati rice and a small salad, I was then ready for devouring my main dish. The chicken popped with each bite, an explosion of flavour, a revelation of having something several notches past delectable. It was so good that I exclaimed, “In the name of God,” or bismillah for those in the know. If I continue to eat at all these ethnic eateries, I will become fluent in more than the short list of languages that I speak. When I was done, I had a chai in the traditional manner of an after-supper drink.

Chicken Boti

Chicken Boti

Bismillah is a cash-only restaurant. Yes, many restaurants accept MasterCard, Visa, Discover, and American Express. The prices are incredibly reasonable for the quality and the quantity that you receive. I should warn you that the portions are substantial. And if you are accustomed to going to restaurants that deliver your order in the speed that you get your food when you go to fast food restaurants, every order is prepared on-demand. Nothing is sitting in pots and pans or under heat lamps, so you get everything fresh. Devon Street where? This off-the-path find was worthy of the discovery. There is something to be said for traffic congestion in Chicago and things that you stumble upon when you are trying to circumvent sitting behind the wheel without moving. Bismillah is one of those discoveries that pleases the appetite. And in “Bohemian Rhapsody” when Queen asks the question, “Bismillah, will you let him go,” picture me smashing the record and declaring, “Bismillah, never let me go! Bring me some more chai.”

Bismillah Restaurant on Urbanspoon Bismillah Restaurant on Foodio54

Cumin to a Neighbourhood Near You

Cumin

Chutneys

Chutneys

It was Friday mid afternoon and we were allowed to leave work early. It was the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend and many companies downtown were rather anxious to start the weekend. Everyone wanted to leave work in a rush to avoid being stuck in traffic or crammed on public transportation en route to home — or wherever they were going. As for me, I opted for a casual subway ride from downtown to Wicker Park with intentions of going to a Nepalese-Indian restaurant. It was late enough that the lunch crowd would have thinned and the after-five crowd would have considered an early dinner an affront to their evening drinking agenda. I arrived at the door and saw that it was dark. Ras! The hours off business are 10:00 AM to 2:30 PM and 5:00 PM to 11:00 PM. Nevertheless, Wicker Park is only the neighbourhood south of Logan Square, where I live. So I went home and dropped off my attaché case, sat for a spell, and then headed back out for the 5:00 PM opening.

Aaluko Achar

Aaluko Achar

Found on the stretch of hip Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park at 1414 N. Milwaukee Avenue is Cumin, one of Chicago’s few Nepalese restaurants that is not tucked in between a host of Indian restaurants on Devon Avenue in Chicago’s Rogers Park. Restaurant atmosphere with a lounge kind of feel to it, I arrived at the restaurant while there were only two tables of diners. I had my pick of seats. Having received a recommendation from a colleague about how outstanding the food was at Cumin, I had slightly high hopes, but I moderated them just a bit. I have found that Indian, Pakistani, and Nepalese restaurants that are not on Devon Avenue tend to appease the American palate more — that is, the food is rather absent of spices, especially the spices that burn the tongue.

Aalu Tikka

Aalu Tikka

During review of the menu, I noticed that the Nepalese bill of fare was considerably smaller than the Indian menu. The vegetarian options were also limited, surprisingly. Indian restaurants are quite dominant in the city, so I decided that I would focus on the Nepalese menu, specifically, perhaps with one exception. I saw a few vegetarian items on the menu. However, I deferred to the waitress for recommendations. I told her that I was primarily vegetarian and wanted something that was authentically Nepalese. Staying away from the usual menu items like samosas, pakoras, and curries, I simply handed the menu to her and told her that I wanted two appetizers and two entrées. With the vegetarian fare being lighter, I entertained one Nepalese appetizer and one Indian vegetarian appetizer. The entrées were Nepalese proper. Seeing that I was pulling my cameras from my bag, the waitress asked me if I wanted my food all at once or if I wanted it linearly so that I could photograph each dish without having the shuffle plates around on the table. I agreed to have each plate come individually.

Basmati Rice

Basmati Rice

The Nepalese appetizer to come to the table was the aaluka achar. Visually, this is every food photographers’ dream, stunning in presentation and well placed for your viewing pleasure. Taste-wise, these baby potatoes and cucumbers, diced and picked with sesame-lemon paste, tempered with fenugreek seed, red chillies, and tumeric powder were heaven served with the restaurant’s signature crispy flattened rice. This dish was so fantastic to the palate that I just knew the rest of the food I had ordered was going to be highly disappointing. And then the Indian appetizer of aalo tikki chaat came to the table. Not only was this appealing to the visual senses, but my taste buds had a party with every bite. This was a mashed potato cake under a cornucopia of boiled chickpeas, chopped onions, yogurt, chaat masala, and tamarind-mint chutney. My mouth went Wow with each taste and understandably so. What made this appetizer even more delectable was the fact that the tartness of the yogurt was balanced out nicely by the sweetness of the tamarind-mint chutney. The aaluka achar and aalo tikka chaat were so expressive in my mouth that I was then certain the appetizers were the best on the menu and the entrees were going to be the complete antithesis.

Palungoko Saag

Palungoko Saag

And when the first entrée came to the table, it was quite evident that I am neither a gambling man nor one who operates on first impressions setting the expectations bar. The baalungoku saag that I had is a traditional Nepalese dish that I can understand why it is favoured so well. In the bowl were fresh spinach leaves sautéed in cumin seed, mustard seed, fenugreek seed, dry red chillies, and fresh garlic cloves. Pa-pow-pow went the insides of my cheeks with each forkful that I placed on my tongue. The spinach had been cooked such that it was not bitter and spiced just right with the red chillies that there was a kick without a need for several swallows of water thereafter. The second entrée was parvate aalu tama ra bodi. Yet again, this was an amazing dish of potatoes, bamboo shoots, and black eyed peas cooked in delectable Nepalese spices. Recommended per the waitress as a traditional vegetarian dish in Nepal, I can say with brutal honesty that I do not want black eyed peas in another fashion than as a dish of parvate aalu tama ra bodi. Not to omit any items, but the basmati rice and roti that came with the entrées rounded out my meal very nicely. The nods of appreciation, the smiles of rapture, and the silence of my growling belly were all evidence that Cumin had done a fantastic job.

Parvate Aalu Tama Ra Bodi

Parvate Aalu Tama Ra Bodi

I knew that I would be able to finish the appetizers without incident. As to the entrées, I ate enough so that I could engage the waitress about the dishes, their preparations, and their cultural significances in Nepal. While getting the remaining entrées prepared for take-away, I had a chai. Naturally sweet and certainly not prepared like that sugary madness you get at Starbucks and other coffee houses, this chai reminded me of that which I partook of in Bangalore, Delhi, and Bombay, just not as peppery. I was quite satisfied and was thrown for a bit of a quandary when I saw the bill. I was quite certain that the waitress had left something off — something that happens often at restaurants where I go. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that all of the appetizers, entrées, and chai that I had ordered were present and accounted for. It was just that the prices were not so above the clouds that the cash register sounded off in stereo with “cha-ching” when the waitress cashed me out.

Masala Chai

Masala Chai

For a first visit, I found Cumin to be a restaurant that I would recommend highly. From the inviting welcome, to the delicious factor of the food, to the price, Cumin is a package that is hard to shirk. As mentioned earlier, the Nepalese menu is small in comparison the Indian menu, and I will have to return in the future to sample what the Indian portion has to offer. With Cumin also being a few stops away from where I live or a bus ride away, I will not have to venture north of where I live to Devon Avenue for some Nepalese food fascination. In the meantime, I will polish off the remaining baalungoku saag and parvate aalu tama ra bodi while reminiscing of how great my experience was on this particular early Friday evening.

Cumin on Urbanspoon