Shan Restaurant & Grocery Store

Shan Restaurant

Years ago some friends had told me about an Indian restaurant in Chicago’s Near North neighbourhood where all the cab drivers congregated. I had followed up on their recommendation to see how the restaurant fared and if I had two words to describe the food they would be “culinary crack.” We’re not talking Indian food for midwest tourists. We’re talking spicy Indian food that raises heat from your scalp. As luck would have it, that restaurant closed. Sigh. But while puttering around Uptown, I passed by a restaurant with cabs in parking lot fashion out front. Shan Restaurant & Grocery at 5060 N. Sheridan Road was where I found another location for some “culinary crack.”

Daal Masoor

Daal Masoor

I’d had a rather filling breakfast earlier in the day, so ordered entrées only. My most addictive dish is butter chicken, so that was definitely one main dish I wanted. Not quite as creamy as butter chicken I have had at sit-down Indian restaurants, there was still the spicy flavour that made this my go-to dish when I have Indian food. The other entrée was daal masoor. Instead of brown lentils, these were yellow lentils, spicy the way Indian food should be enjoyed, and now my favourite vegetarian option. With basmati rice and parantha, this lunch left me considering making Shan Restaurant & Grocery my favourite Indian haunt. And I can’t believe I ate all of it, given I was gluttenous during breakfast.

Parantha

Parantha

From brief discussion with the server, the restaurant had a bit of an expansion. There is a nice dining area where you’re not sitting on top of other diners. There is nothing appealing about the decor, but if you’re like me, you’ll spend more time looking down at your plate so you won’t really care. I never went into the small grocery store section, but I made a note to do so in the future. However, there is a strong cabbie gathering that frequents the restaurant and I understand why. It seems that a big hint as to whether food has serious authenticity to it is not only tied to the cultural representation enjoying the menu items, but also the large number of cab drivers partaking of the food. Hmm. I think I shall go back while hungry, do some grocery shopping, and then sit for a spell of some curry dish to fuel my “culinary crack” addiction.

Murgh Makhani

Murgh Makhani

Shan Restaurant & Grocery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Culinary Harmony — Masala Indian & Mediterranean Cuisine

Masala Indian & Mediterranean Cuisine

Nothing like a quick personal holiday away and then returning with an appetite. Food on airplanes do nothing but keep me slightly appeased and I should not complain too much because I will be on another plane towards the end of the week flying away for a another stretch of time. In the meantime, I made it a point to compensate for the lack of tasty morsels while sitting cramped in the economy section for my long flight.

A friend had mentioned an Indian and Thai restaurant in the Uptown neighbourhood, not far from where he lives. Midway through the conversation he said that the restaurant is now Indian and Mediterranean. I understood how Indian and Thai could tie cuisines together — by way of the curry dishes. However, a growling belly leaves very little margin for me to sit around and ponder food for too long. So, I was off to Masala Indian & Mediterranean Cuisine at 1002 W. Argyle Street.

Masala Indian & Mediterranean Collage

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album

Initially, I was going to have entrées only, but something told me to satisfy my appetite completely. I started with a samosa. After having added some tamarind chutney and cilantro chutney, I was tempted to order about six for take-away after the first bite. Lately I have had baked samosas and the pastry was not flaky. The crust to the samosa at Masala Indian & Mediterranean Cuisine was a dream. As to the entrées, I had ordered chicken makhani and palak paneer and requested that they were prepared to be spicy. The chicken makhani was outstanding. I was surprised that the palak paneer was more like paneer bhurji with spinach rather than like saag paneer, which made that entrée that more indulgent.

I didn’t see poori on the menu and had mentioned poori rather passively while ordering. What made me an instant fan of Masala was the server returning to the table and saying that the chef could prepare poori. As thankful as I was, I was not expecting that kind of accommodation. On a scale of 1 to 10, it made the whole experience a 25. So, I used the poori to scoop a good bit of the food and a fork, of course, later the course.

Still being diligent about keeping my sugar intake low, I had kheer and masala chai. Topped with crushed pistachios, the kheer was super. I could have had more than just the bowl of it, but I was already too full. However, I could order quite a bit of it for take-away and enjoy for breakfast, as well as throughout the day and after dinner. The mark of a good chai is the skin that floats atop once it’s brought to the table. That is the indication that you’re not getting chai from a carton that has been heated. The kheer and masala chai were a perfect finale to a fantastic lunch.

Masala Indian & Mediterranean Cuisine does indeed have a Mediterranean menu. The restaurant opened its doors only a few months and the husband and wife team have added a welcomed addition to Uptown. I did not get to sample any of the Mediterranean fare since I did not want to mix cuisines. But being able to say that the Indian portion of the menu is worthy of repeat visits, I shall certainly return one day with a taste for some Mediterranean options. Masala Indian & Mediterranean Cuisine aced three things I always seek when going to restaurants — delicious food, first-rate service, and reasonable prices. Restaurants like this make it hard for me to not be in love with eating constantly.

Masala Indian & Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Tasty Comedy — Thalia Spice

Thalia Spice

As an amateur photographer, it would be nice to have someone who I could consider my muse. Alas, there is no one. But there is this whole thing with food that seems to drive me. I grab the camera and head out the door, along with my insatiable appetite. I don’t know if that is a case of a muse driving me or food being a rather strong incentive. With weather being nice outside for a weekend, I had decided that I would take my bicycle for a spin. I rode through Logan Square, down through Bucktown and Wicker Park, and even did a pass through West Town. Yes, I made the rounds through the hip sections of the city — sorry Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, and Lakeview, but your popular days have passed. As I biked east away from West Town, I noticed the name of a muse on a restaurant. Lo and behold, there was Thalia Spice at 833 W. Chicago Avenue.

Lychee Juice

Lychee Juice

I had been to Simply Thalia in the pedestrian walkway between the Blue Line and the Red Line at Washington Street. I remembered having to go twice, the second time to give the restaurant another chance to wow me — which it eventually did. I recognized that Thalia Spice was the parent restaurant, so I wanted to see if the dishes were somewhat the same or better. Taking a seat outside and getting the white balance set for my photography, I was all ready. And then these two bronze dolls pulled up in their car, hopped out with their angry dogs, and eyed a table next to mine. It had to have been the expression on my face that made them settle on sitting on the far end of the outdoor seating area. I mean, I had come to eat food, not to watch them pet their dogs.

Ginger Chicken Soup

Ginger Chicken Soup

For a refreshment, I started with lychee juice. If you want to slowly break yourself from downing soda pop, I highly recommend lychee juice if you can get your hands on some. Whether the juice at Thalia Spice was concentrate or not, it was well worth it. After scanning the menu briefly, I recognized the whole Pan-Asian pizazz that the restaurant puts forth. They cover as many Asian ethnicities as possible: Indonesian, Burmese, Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, Thai, and Japanese, just to name a few. I keep thinking Jack of All Trades, Master of None, because something gets compromised. One dish that showed mastery was the ginger chicken soup, which was very reminiscent of tom yum soup. The ginger added the right amount of kick to the soup without the need for pepper, and I found it to be worthy of a very nice winter soup. Where there was a lacking in mastery was with the Indian makhani chicken. Visually appetizing, but absent in flavour. It may have been that the dish was not spicy, as Indian food is divine when served with a highlight of some spicy curry. Unfortunately, the chicken makhani fell prey to the Pan-Asian effect, resulting in a dish that was probably tempered based on one of the other Asian influences. Not all Asian cuisines are fitting for a mix-and-match menu. A milder palate would enjoy the offerings, as the flavours may be not be overwhelming the way the food may taste natively.

Indian Chicken Makhani

Indian Chicken Makhani

For the look and feel of a high-end restaurant, Thalia Spice does not have the price that makes you wonder if you need to take out a miniature loan. The service is absolutely wonderful, as the server was not only helpful, but she was also cognizant of me taking photos of my food and did not rush me. I imagine the restaurant fills up on weekends, more on Friday and Saturday nights. Going during the day on a Sunday allowed for a great seat outside — granted I got there in time to secure a great table before the two showed up with their dogs that growled. It may have been a comedy of error that things worked out the way they did. Then again, Thalia was the muse of comedy.

Thalia Spice on Urbanspoon