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

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