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.

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Namaste

Many years ago, I got my first exposure to Indian cuisine when two co-workers and I started what became our bi-weekly Mod Squad dinners. One of the Mod Squad members — affectionally called Julie — was vegetarian, so she offered up a certain Indian restaurant that was central to the other member, Pete, and me, who was dubbed Linc with dreadlocks. Samosas. Papadam wafers. Tamarind chutney. Pickled peppers. Cilantro chutney. Paneer makhani. Saag paneer. Aloo. Chana masala. Bhatura. Sambar. Idli. The spices and flavours were so full that I had not noticed the absence of meat. From that evening, Indian food became my favourite ethnic cuisine. And having travelled to India for two weddings, having Indian food prepared truly authentically made it a definite staple in my diet. Per my high school sweetheart, who said that I smell of curry, it is quite evident that, yes, I am in love with Indian dining.

Bombay Spice Grill and Wine

While in downtown Chicago and reminiscing about my past Mod Squad dinners, I passed by Bombay Spice Grill & Wine at 450 N. Clark Street. Not quite in the tourist trap section of Near North Side, as that would require going over to N. LaSalle Street, Bombay Spice sits not far from several other swanky boutique restaurants. Lucky for me, I wandered by the restaurant a few minutes past it opening its doors for the lunch crowd. I was able to get a seat near the window, not so pedestrians could see my happiness as I ate, but so that I had natural light for my photos. With full bar immediately to the left when you enter, an open grill towards the back, and plenty of seats for the Hungry Jack and Starving Jill, Bombay Spice looks like a hot spot for the Friday evening after-work crowd. After a quick scan of the menu, it became apparent that there was a bit of fusion that gets introduced into the recipes. Bombay Spice is not India House, Udupi Palace, Mysoor, Usmania, or Taj Mahal. And I should have known that from the location, there would be some American aspect introduced so as not to offend a common palate. But that was okay. I can adjust when it comes to food. I decided that I would have my version of a degustation instead of ordering the formulaic appetizer, entrée, and dessert with something to drink. It was a lovely day, I had plenty of time, and I had an appetite, the former not being a surprise.

Lentil Soup

To start, I had a bowl of lentil soup. After the first slurp, I thought of my favourite Brazilian restaurant in Oak Park, Illinois, and the lentil soup that they serve. That Brazilian restaurant prepares the best lentil soup that you will probably find between the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean. The soup that I had a Bombay Spice comes in a close second. The caveat was that the salt seemed to have been mildly heavy-handed — as if something can be mild and heavy at the same time. As I may have mentioned in some past posts, my diet entertains low or no salt, so it becomes rather noticeable in a dish as soon as it touches the tongue. I had orange juice along with the soup, so I was able to dilute the taste of salt some. However, I will admit that the soup still held its own in terms of flavour and I nodded in appreciation of it being satisfying.

Samosas with Tamarind ChutneyFor the second course of my degustation, I had samosas with a tamarind chutney. The samosas at Bombay Spice are baked, which lends credence to the healthy aspect that the restaurant adds to its food. Unlike samosas that have been deep-fried, there was no flakiness to the crust. They were still stuffed with potatoes, peas, curry, and cumin, all which added a full blossom to the burst of flavour. Cutting through the crust required a tad bit of effort because where flaky crusts practically obey and fall apart, cutting a baked crust with a butter knife could result in part of the samosa scooting off the plate with a quickness. The tamarind chutney brought back to mind the chutney that I remembered from the Indian restaurant of my Mod Squad days, the sweetness without being saccharine, tamarind that you could actually taste without a syrup overload. After I finished performing my surgery cuts on the samosas so that they didn’t fly about the plate and table, I poured the tamarind chutney over the samosas and commenced to eating them to completion.

Chickpea CevicheWhere things really glowed was with the third course of my degustation. I had chickpea ceviche, which I found to be a unique twist on ceviche. In many, if not all, Latin American restaurants, ceviche is on the menu. After you have some the first time, there is almost a guarantee that you will want some every time you go to a Latin American eatery. The chickpea ceviche at Bombay Spice is nothing but a plate of love that deserves an encore in perpetuity. Chickpeas. Tomatoes. Onions. Tamarind. Mint. Yogurt. Me smiling and dancing — very, very small moves so not to be “that” evident. The papadam wafers that came with it completed the dish and I will say that this was the first time I have had ceviche so delightfully delectable that I could have stood in the middle of the restaurant and danced with jazz hands without compunction or care. I have been through markets and down side streets in India, feasting on street food and loving a favourite street dish called chaat — served by merchants with dirty hands — and I have downed it without complaint or bellyache. All while I was polishing off the ceviche I kept thinking that this was Bombay Spice’s version of chaat. Ceviche. Chaat. Someting thrown together on a dish. I could eat it endlessly.

Bombay Spice PunchWith the ceviche, I had Bombay Spice punch. And oh did it pack a punch. We are talking Absolut vodka, hibiscus tea, Hum liquor, and agave nectar, shaken and then poured over freshly diced pineapple, mango, orange, and ginger ale. As if that is not enough, it is then topped off with red wine, and then garnished with orange and fresh basil leaf. My complements to the bartender because he was able to hide the alcohol rather well. It was a good thing that it was not summer and I was not thirsty like someone who had been crawling through a desert without any water. I was rather fine sitting, but when I stood after the meal, that was when I was then aware of how sleep-inducing the punch was. It was a wise idea for me to have started off with food prior to having the punch come to the table. I would have otherwise sang, babbled, drooled, and been on some video that would have become an embarassing viral sensation on the Internet.

The final dish in my personal degustation was chicken tikka. Having forgotten to order a side of rice with it, I had a plate of chicken in tandoori spices, roasted peppers, and onions. This dish indeed had a grill preparation to it, as chicken tikka comes in a gravy. The chicken tikka at Bombay Spice came with a cilantro raita that I think would have been perfect if the chicken dish had been incredibly spicy. There would then have been a balance to keep the tongue from feeling as though a burning ember had been placed upon it. After a few dips of the chicken morsels in the raita, I then opted to finish the dish as-is. I also was considering ordering some of the chickpea ceviche for take-away.

Chicken Tikka

Bombay Spice Grill & Wine is one of those restaurants that I think would be a good introduction to someone who wants to ease into Indian dining, but still has a soft palate. The food is definitely tempered for the American palate and, as they say, when in Rome. During the lunch hour, the bartender doubled as a server and there was one other server. It may have been the timing when I went that the restaurant was not teeming with customers the way you see some restaurants after five o’clock and throughout the weekend. The servers were not inundated and the dining patrons were able to enjoy their meals without feeling neglected. As for prices, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to say what is too much, what is too little, and what is just about right. There is no Goldilocks assessment that I can apply. The bill was not more than I expected, but I will agree that I paid for what I got and that did not mean emptying my wallet. Before I left, I asked myself what I would have done during my Mod Squad days. The answer was to order the ceviche for take-away. That is exactly what I did. And then I went home and watched an old episode of the Mod Squad.

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