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.

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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

Exhaling Curry, Mughal India

Mughal India Restaurant

Shortly after I joined a company in the West Loop, my colleagues wanted to go to a nearby Indian restaurant. Let me just say that I love Indian food. So, I put my antisocial disposition aside — actually, I’m only antisocial until I’m not longer working with someone — and I joined the troop for lunch. Buffet and mild for the American palates that flooded the restaurant. Slow clap, twice. Well, one thing I have noticed about many of the Indian restaurants very close to the Chicago Loop is that the buffets are indeed for quick bites and incredibly mild. No Indian restaurant should serve its food mild. It MUST come to the table spicy. And I learned later that going back to any of those restaurants for dinner is when you get to see that they can shine with food so full of flavour that you continue to return.

Papadum

Papadum

Well, I returned to Mughal India Restaurant at 560 W. Van Buren Street for some non-work day delight. I had gone back recently for take-away. When I got home and started gobbling my purchases, I knew I had to return for a proper blog. I also made a note to myself that I was not going to indulge any more Indian buffets in the downtown area. It is necessary to go away from The Loop to get authenticity in my Indian buffets. Now, I’m not a stickler for decor since I’m more concerned about flavour than I am about whether the cushions are plush as opposed to crushed velvet. A few whiffs of the air and I was ready to work my fork on some curry dish.

Jeera Aloo

Jeera Aloo

Because Indian food can be heavy, I skipped having an appetizer and decided that I would have two entrée selections. I ordered jeera aloo and fish tikka masala with basmati rice and poori. Ordering the entrées spicy made the dishes that more appetizing. The jeera aloo was bursting with whole cumin seeds and other various spices — no bland potatoes for me.  This was what I considered my “dry” dish since it was not in a gravy. The spices compensated for the absence of sauce. The fish tikka masala was incredible. Boneless fish marinated in yogurt and spices, and then served in a spicy masala gravy. If I was not a seafood lover already, I would have been after indulging this entrée. The rice was good for taming the flame of the spices and the poori, which is my favourite Indian bread along with bhatura, was my eating utensil. Yes, I eat Indian food using bread for my utensils, which may explain why my hands have an everlasting curry smell to them.

Fish Tikka Masala

Fish Tikka Masala

After I had finished the meal, the server did not rush me. So, I took a little time to let the food digest before requesting a masala chai. The beauty of having a masala chai at an Indian restaurant is that you are guaranteed not to have them serve you that concoction from a carton that is all the rage at coffee houses. What murder. What horror. What crime. Oh, and if the masala chai is really good, you won’t require any sweeteners. Such was the case with the masala chai at Mughal India. For all those international coffee commercials that used to come on with the women taking a sip and whimsically imagining all being good and well in the land, imagine someone smacking their cups from their hands and offering them some masala chai. Those women would skyrocket straight to the stars.

Poori

Poori

Now, I can’t say that I will ever return to Mughal India Restaurant for their lunch buffet. They raised the bar with their dinner and Saturday lunches. Oh, let me not forget this. My in-house dining bonanza was on a Saturday afternoon and they served from the menu only. Let’s just say that they curried favour with me in a way that has moved them high up on my list of recommended Indian restaurants. Considering I get to see the Indians in the open kitchen preparing love for the plates, it is authentic in a major way. Mughal India Restaurant will be one of the main reasons why my pores, according to my highschool sweetheart, seems to exhale curry. And I smile.

Masala Chai

Masala Chai

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