Tandoor Char House — Indian Goes Barbecue

Tandoor Char House

During one of my days off for my birthday earlier this month, I did a fair share of casual strolling through one of the neighbourhoods to the east of my neighbourhood. Lincoln Park is known for quite a bit of activity and offers a lot of restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and novelty shops for pedestrians. Much like a lot of areas in Chicago, there are some establishments that you may never notice or you may pass and simply never give a second glance. Tandoor Char House at 2652 N. Halsted Street is one of those places that rang true for me, given I spent most of my strolling on Halsted Street in Greektown.

Salad

Salad

For my first visit, I craved Indian-specific dishes. The craving was more of a need for pandering to a food addiction rather than merely wanting some spicy Indian food on my palate. I didn’t waste any time looking at the menu. I rattled off two dishes that are common on all Indian menus — chana masala and chicken tikka masala.

Chana Masala

Chana Masala

Having had Indian food without it being spicy a few times as of late, I requested that my dishes come blooming with pepper. The temperatures outside were moderately chilly, so I could stand the heat. The chana masala left me happy. And I was quite cultural with my use of the poori to devour the tasty chickpeas. I think this may be my all-time favourite Indian dish and seeing that Tandoor Char House had served up perfection, I ordered some for take-away.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala

The chicken tikka masala was a splendid accompaniment to the chana masala. Usually chicken tikka masala has a thin yet flavourful gravy. This dish at Tandoor Char House reminded me of chicken makhani, rich in gravy and accented with butter. The tamarind rice that came with it worked wonders on the tongue. There was a mild zest to the rice since it was not regular basmati rice and it also worked well with the chana masala.

Mango Cheesecake

Mango Cheesecake

Truly my appetite was out of control for I had eaten everything. I even used the poori to get the last bit of gravy from the serving dishes. I requested twenty minutes of downtime in preparation for dessert. Kulfi? Gulab jamun? Gajar ka halwa? Kheer? No, I had a slice of mango cheesecake. The thing about the restaurant being empty when I went was that I let my facial expression have a complete go of it without me feeling embarrassed about my version of appreciation. Topped with crushed pistachios and drizzled with mango sauce, this slice of heaven could have Cheesecake Factory scrambling for a tastier cheesecake.


Having eaten too much during my first visit to Tandoor Char House, I decided that it would be wise to return another day for a sampling of something different. First for tempting the palate were tamarind chicken wings. I didn’t see a need to be prim, evident from me using my fingers to pick up the wings and delight myself properly. I even licked my fingers when I was done, and I didn’t blush with shame for being so comfortable.

Tamarind Chicken

Tamarind Chicken

Tandoori dishes are usually something that I skip at Indian restaurants, mostly because I love the curry dishes. Today I opted for tandoori shrimp. Brought to the table on a skillet, you could see the steam rising from the plump shrimp, bell peppers, and onions. This dish came with tamarind rice and a makhani sauce. By the time I had finished devouring this addictive dish, I wondered why I had never succumbed to any tandoori dishes other than the usual complimentary tandoori chicken that most Indian restaurants serve during lunch buffets.

Tandoori Shrimp

Tandoori Shrimp

While I let my tummy settle from the tamarind chicken and tandoori shrimp dish, I had a pakola. This Pakistani drink is a cream soda and the one that I had seemed to have a hint of rose-water in it. So, my three favourite carbonated drinks that also happen to be the only carbonated drinks I will have are piña Jarritos, mandarin Jarritos, and pakola.

Pakola

Pakola

For my finale, I ordered a fusion dish — penne tikka masala with shrimp. I had tried to convince myself not to indulge a curry or a dish with a gravy, but I was rather curious as to how the penne with tikka masala would taste. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it left me with a smear of gravy at the corner of my lips. Imagine Italian meets Indian. This was a luscious marriage. And served with garlic naan, if I had a microphone, I would have dropped it on the floor as I slowly got up from the table and dragged myself out into the streets.

Penne Tikka Masala with Shrimp

Penne Tikka Masala with Shrimp

Tandoor Char House has a small seating area in a loft section of the restaurant. For my two visits, this is where I sat. However, there looks to be a downstairs section that may be an extension of the restaurant that fills up during busy hours. The table service has been great during my visits and I am surprised when the tab comes and it’s not as hefty as I think it would be. Far be it from me to complain. It only means that I can be certain to keep going back to Tandoor Char House and stuffing myself senselessly without worrying about a pricey bill. Hmm. I’ll let you know after my next visit.

Tandoor Char House on Urbanspoon

Paprika Soul With Chutney on the Side

Paprika

One would think that for a man who loves to eat a lot, he would cook his own food most of the time. I use the eyes on my stove to boil water for my tea and the conventional oven to heat food. But to actually pull together some ingredients, concoct a dish, and then cook is something I haven’t done in quite some time. So, I either pick up food to-go on the way home from work or I order delivery from GrubHub. One of my most recent GrubHub orders came from an Indian restaurant that was out of my delivery range, which meant I had to drive to the location to get the food. Well, it was so blooming delicious that I decided to go in for a proper sit-down to blog.

Mango Lassi

Mango Lassi

Papadam and Chutneys

Papadam and Chutneys

Paprika, at 2547 W. Lawrence Avenue, sits in a small strip of stores. It’s a quaint restaurant with a seating area that looks like the repurposed family room in a house. And that whole look and feel create an atmosphere of being at someone’s home, even before the owner welcomes you and tells you to make yourself at home. Having been in business for fifteen years in the Devon Avenue stretch, Paprika moved to Lawrence Avenue a few years ago in the Albany Park neighbourhood that abuts Lincoln Square. At this new location is where they are providing great service and lip-smacking fare.

Samosas

Samosas

As usual, I had a ravenous appetite. There were complimentary papadam and three sauces — tamarind chutney, cilantro chutney, and a spicy paprika sauce — that came to the table. Knowing that I was going to have my dishes spicy, I ordered a mango lassi, which was refreshingly outstanding. For a starter, I ordered vegetable samosas. Mild in flavouring, that was fine since I knew that the entrées I had planned to sample would compensate for the tempered spices in the samosas. I couldn’t quite place if the samosas were baked or if they were lightly deep-fried. Slightly crispy, they had the texture of French beignets — that being crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. I mashed them up, added the sauces, and gobbled them.

Coconut Curry Chicken

Coconut Curry Chicken

There was no buffet, so ordering was indeed off the menu. There were two entrées that I wanted to sample. After waffling between whether to order the butter chicken or the coconut curry chicken, I accepted the owner’s recommendation and ordered the latter. I was expecting the base to be of coconut milk. However, it was curry gravy with shaved coconut. I immediately fell in love with the dish after the first swallow. Unexpected is good when it comes to Indian food.

Rice

Rice

The second entrée was chana aloo. Served with naan, I should have ordered bhatura or poori instead of the naan. Because I had requested to have the chana aloo spicy, I got it the way I love it. I could taste the cumin and cloves. The basmati rice that came with both main dishes also brimmed with a hint of saffron and cloves. Scooped with the chana aloo and scooped with the coconut curry chicken, I was thoroughly pleased that I had made Paprika my lunch spot.

Chana Aloo

Chana Aloo

Well, with a meal consisting of a satisfying appetizer and two entrées well worth writing about, I sat and talked to the owner at length. We chatted about the plethora of Indian restaurants in London, the authenticity of traditional meals in Toronto, and how street food in the alleys of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Calcutta is hands down the best. And somehow conversation segued into what we thought was some of the best dessert to be found. That was when I had some kheer placed in front of me. When people say, “It’s the best [fill in the blank with choice dessert] ever,” there is a tendency to hide giving side eyes and saying to yourself, “Yeah, right.” The kheer at Paprika was so incredible that I would have body slammed a rugby player if he were to have messed with my kheer. Anyone can mix rice, milk, sugar, saffron, cinnamon, raisins, pistachio, and almonds. Not everyone can “get it right” the way Paprika does.

Kheer

Kheer

What many in Chicago are starting to recognize is that like Middle Eastern food, Indian food is gaining a larger presence. Much of that is because of the great taste in the food and the other factor is, well, it simply taste so blooming fantastic. Because of the popularity of Indian dining, there are more restaurants opening their doors in locations away from Devon Avenue. Not that there weren’t choices from which to pick on Devon, but now there are locations opening quite possibly very close to you. If you love Indian fare and going to restaurants where you are made to feel at home, Paprika is definitely one eatery to add to your list. When the owners greets you with, “Swatgatum,” simply respond with, “Shurkria,” take your seat and prepare to ka some mind-blowing Indian goodness.

Paprika on Urbanspoon

Masala Indian & Fusion Cuisine

Masala Indian & Fusion Cuisine

The thing about living in Chicago proper is that having a car is a wasted expense. If you are like me, you take public transportation everywhere because of two factors: a want for avoiding snow during the winter and a loathing of construction epidemic when it’s not snowing. Because I rarely drive, I venture out to the suburbs when I go for a spin. So, after driving the obstacle course of potholes, lane closures, and drivers who don’t use their indicators, I managed to venture out to the West Suburbs. And after a while, it was necessary for me address a certain issue: my growling belly. Ah, but there was an Indian restaurant in sight — Masala Indian and Fusion Cuisine at 801 E. Butterfield Road in Lombard. Talk about serendipity.

Mango Lassi

Mango Lassi

I was in a mode of wanting to deviate just a little, but not completely. Instead of the usual samosas, I ordered aloo papdi chaat. In India, you will find this dished out in some container from any number of street vendors. It is the best. And Masala applies a bit of that tradition to the aloo papdi chaat that they serve. The crispy pastry, chopped potatoes, and onions served with cilantro and tamarind chutneys and yogurt make for an incredible snack. After devouring samosas, papadum, aloo tikka, and pakoras all the time, I had forgotten how much I was a fan of something as simple as chaat — which still has a complex flavour.

Aloo Papdi Chaat

Aloo Papdi Chaat

Aloo Papdi Chaat

Aloo Papdi Chaat

It is rhetorical for me to say that I had an insatiable appetite. I ordered an entree of chicken tikka masala, an entree of chana masala, basmati rice, and bhatura. With the temperatures having a bit of a nip, one way I knew would give me enough heat to deal with the continuing drop in temperatures outside was to get the dishes spicy. Heat rising from my scalp, a ring of fire around my lips, and my belly welcoming each swallow, it was a scene of sheer enjoyment. It helped that I had a mango lassi to quell a bit of the fire from the spiciness. Not only was the chicken tender in the chicken tikka masala, but the gravy had a hint of makhani to it, and I love makhani. The chana masala had a different taste to it. However, it was still an outstanding dish and I used the bhatura for my eating utensil to gobble the spicy chickpeas in gravy.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chana Masala

Chana Masala

I figured traffic going back towards downtown Chicago would be taxing on my nerves, so I opted to sit and let my food settle. Now, there were a few people who had come into the restaurant and ordered masala chai for take-away. When patrons come to Indian restaurants for chai, it may be a good idea to follow suit. I barely had the cup to my lips when I realized why the chai was so popular. It tasted like what you get down the alleys in India. Well, for those who are daring and will partake of street food and masala chai from street vendors, they know. And if you get a cup of masala Chai from Masala, then you, too, will understand the draw.

Masala Chai

Masala Chai

Masala Indian and Fusion Cuisine is authentically Indian. The exterior can be deceiving, as it looks like the frontispiece for a vacant building, especially if the parking lot is scant with cars. But once you enter, you’re in a Wonderland that caters to palates that enjoy Indian food with all of it flair. They have a buffet daily. I shall return in the near future to partake of the buffet offerings, since you can never go wrong at an Indian buffet. Having eaten from the menu, I will admit that I am indeed a fan of Masala. As to the fusion aspect of their menu, that may be something given in the name for an attraction because this restaurant screams authenticity in some of the best Indian dining. And it begs you to make the drive out to Lombard to find out for yourself the flavour of love.

Masala, Indian & Fusion Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Ali Baba and Gino at Baba’s Village

Baba's Village

When you have gone to India and eaten at any restaurant, home, or down some alley, the standard for preparation of Indian food is pretty much ingrained. You might not know the exact amount of herbs and spices that each dish should have, but you know when the food is so good that talking to someone while you are eating is the last thing you want to do. And when you hear people say that cab drivers frequent a certain Indian eatery, you think authenticity. You get slightly hyper, ready to gnash away at something spicy, hungry like the wolf.

Hmm.

Samosa

Samosa

Last year my colleagues took me to a nearby Indian hole-in-the-wall at 310A S. Canal Street named Baba’s Village. As far as quick goes, it fits the bill. At the time, there was a constant ebb and tide of suits, ties, and wanderers off some Amtrak train from the neighbouring Union Station. It looked like it had all the trappings of the Indian spots that have endeared themselves to my appetite. And without extra charge, you got a bit of attitude with your order. I never bothered to return because the personnel atmosphere had ruined the meal, which was so Americanized that it was practically American food being passed off as Indian food.

I returned recently after work when there was no crowd and noticed a change. Granted the Indian guy at the cash registered barely looked at me while I was placing my order, that changed with a little bit of Hindi that I let sprang forth. I have a habit of unconsciously letting people know that I’m not as typical as I look. So, he was rather engaging thereafter, and it may have been the few short sentences of Hindi that resulted in my food being – and I must apologize for the blatant continuation of my sentence – so DAMN DELICIOUS.

Chana Bhatura

Chana Bhatura

Veggie samosa. Chana bhatura.

The samosa was spicy and almost the size of a fist. Considering my hands are extra large, I will say that the samosa was about the size of a large fist. It came hot and flaky, not cold or lukewarm and chewy. That was a big change from what I remember during the lunch order I had last year, in which the samosa had the texture of toast. Where there was indeed a HUGE improvement was with the chana bhatura. I am a fan of choley and bhatura. The bhatura was certainly not a let-down. The chana was still very much like seasoned chickpeas in a spicy stew gravy, but there was flavour this time. I have no idea what the concoction was that I had last year, but its bland-as-a-rice-cake flavour then was nothing like the pop that I had during this recent visit. I actually finished everything and when I say everything I mean I took the last pieces of bhatura and went around the bowl to sop the last bit of gravy.

It may have been my appetite. It may have been that the cook had more time to prepare dishes without the rush of the lunch crowd. Whatever it was, this most recent visit was an indication that Baba’s Village may be worth avoiding during noon and waiting until after 5:00 PM when everyone is rushing home or to some watering hole to turn up some beers. The prices aren’t all that expensive. I can’t speak to any dishes other than the chana bhatura and the sampling of some “You call that tender?” butter chicken that a fellow colleague had last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if the butter chicken doesn’t have a wow factor after 5:00 PM. I can’t say. But maybe during your visit, you can let me know thereafter.

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