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

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

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Pandemonium, Mayhem, Usmania in a Good Way

Usmania

Tandoori Naan

Tandoori Naan

Well, time flies, which is so cliché. The restaurants were many and very satisfying to the palate. A group of friends and I had been engaging in ongoing conversation about food and I, as usual, was the first to offer the suggestion to do something about our hunger.  What better way to show love for some great eating than a Google search in advance of rushing out the door to feed the monster. Laptop on. Launch Google Chrome browser. Search for restaurants with a culture starting with zed. And, eureka, Zabihah popped up as a search result. [By the way, zed is how the British say Z. I’m losing a lot of my American-speak from interacting with blokes and skirts.] We congregated at Western and Devon and began our search for a Zabihah restaurant. With it being hot enough to, shall we say, make people in the tropics shut it about the heat and humidity, our search was short. We ended up in Usmania, at 2253 W. Devon Avenue.

Mutton Biryani

Mutton Biryani

What looks like an American tourist trap from the outside was clearly a contradiction on the inside. Filled with patrons who were a part of “the culture,” and I do mean overflowing, that was a clear indication that we had hit the jackpot. Quickly seated by a waiter who spoke very little English, but was more welcoming than what you get at some common suburban strip mall restaurants, he took our orders of mango lassis and gave us time to peruse the menus. Another waiter later came by to take our orders and stayed long enough to explain anything that we had questions about. Say what? After it seemed like our ordering was endless, he was even more accommodating and that was an absolute high point. One thing to note is Usmania did not have an appetizer section on the menu. That was a rarity, but it was not a strike against the restaurant. It simply meant that we planned to order additional food, if it came to that. Recognizing that Indian and Pakistani food can be somewhat heavy with the gravies, we played it safely and started our orders. With there being five us of present, we each picked a dish.

Daal

Daal

Seekh Kabab

Seekh Kabab

Karahi Chicken

Karahi Chicken

Qalandri Kheer

Qalandri Kheer

We had seekh kabab, nehari, karahi chicken, daal palak, channa daal, and mutton biryani. In addition to the main dishes, we ordered three breads to go with our meal: onion kulcha, tandoori naan, and paratha. Of course, we had this all served family style — none of that individual plate activity. The seekh kabab was fine minced beef seasoned with delectable spices, pressed into sausage-like shapes, and then charcoal grilled on a skewer. The nehari was a special Pakistani dish that came in a clay pot. This yummy sensation was pieces of beef mixed up with a spicy curry, and we showed our appreciation by gobbling it up without delay. Another dish that went well with the side of basmati rice we ate was the karahi chicken, which were tender pieces of chicken in an onion and tomato sauce with a touch of ginger and chillies, cooked in a Pakistani frying pan called a karahi. For our vegetable sides, this is where the daal palak and channa daal came into play. The daal palak were lentils cooked with spinach and spices. The channa daal were chick peas cooked with mild spices and were great complements to the paratha bread. A huge hit was the mutton biryani. This was mutton marinated with tomato, green pepper, mint, onion, cilantro, and cooked over basmati rice.

Kulfi

Kulfi

Now, while those were only five main dishes, the portions were sizeable and the addition of bread and rice made it all very filling. One would not think that we would even contemplate dessert. If it was on the menu, then it was fair game, so we had three desserts for our glee. We downed a qalandri kheer. This popular Pakistani dessert, which is made from basmati rice and milk, flavoured cardamom seeds, almonds, and raisins, is the equivalent of rice pudding, but so tasty that those who are allergic to nuts like me do not even realize there are almonds in it. [I am not allergic to exotic nuts, so the almonds were great.] The kulfi was Indian/Pakistani ice cream served up in small blocks under vermicelli noodles. The most exotic dessert was the falooda. I know I have had falooda at one of the many restaurants, but I cannot recall which one. This was a parfait of jellied fruit, ice cream, and vermicelli noodles. After we finished all of these desserts, we were thoroughly filled and defeated. Add satisfied to the list because this was certainly a great way to wrap up the alphabet.

Falooda

Falooda

Since it was only two hours of us sitting around enjoying the food, loving the food, and cracking jokes, we sat a few more minutes contemplating whether we wanted to immediately rush back outside into the muggy heat. We had paid the tab, which was not bad at all considering all of the food we ordered, and did not want to hold up a table. So, I beckoned to one of the waiters and ordered a round of chai for everyone. That was a great ploy for avoiding having to leave the restaurant and rush out into tropical temperatures, if I may say so myself. Yes, I know that hot tea seems to be rather contradictory, but only if it were Lipton or Nestea instead of Indian chai. The shocker came when we prompted one of the waiters that we wanted the tab for the chai and the owner came to the table and told us that it was on the house. What? The magic is in pulling out the camera and taking photos of the good food. Although the owner was very accommodating, we showed our appreciation by tipping heavily. Every good deed deserves a reward and we walked away from Usmania having chosen it on a whim and having received total customer satisfaction, outstanding food, and an act of kindness from the manager that made our visit way more than its weight in gold. Thank God for the letter zed and this wonderful Zabihah restaurant.

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