One of the vital distinctive eating places in America debuted final week in River North, gracefully combining Indian and French components. Indienne options non-vegetarian and vegetarian tasting menus — chef and co-owner Sujan Sarkar says if vegans give him two days’ discover, his kitchen will accommodate them, too.
Sarkar notes the historical past of the area at 217 E. Huron Avenue. It housed Graham Elliot, a former two-Michelin-starred nice eating restaurant from the movie star chef. Sarkar isn’t chasing awards with Indienne, however a chance exists: judges throughout the nation are seeing Indian eating places in a special mild lately. Earlier in 2022, the James Beard Basis awarded Asheville, North Carolina’s Chai Pani as America’s Most Excellent Restaurant. Moreover, Chintan Pandya of Damaka received Finest Chef: New York State.
Indienne joins Wazwan in Wicker Park as Chicago’s only two Indian restaurants with tasting menus. Although Indienne options elegant gadgets like a lobster-topped bisi bele bathtub — a dish of rice, lentils, and greater than 30 components; it was as soon as reserved for royalty — Sarkar says he isn’t after glory: “For those who’re opening a restaurant, it must be for the suitable causes.”
Owned by Sarkar and an investor group that features Roy Appukuttan, a contractor who constructed Rooh Chicago and owns The Swill Inn (a bar in River West), the chef additionally designed the 85-seat eating room. It features a 10-seat bar and a 14-seat personal eating room. Sarkar opened Rooh in West Loop, however after a falling out with the native proprietor, he departed final yr. Sarkar says he almost left America for London earlier than Graham Elliot’s area opened up. He stays concerned in Rooh places in San Fransico and Palo Alto, California, in addition to Baar Baar in New York.
This challenge is unbiased of these eating places, and the ambiance at Indienne is geared extra towards nice eating. Uncles and aunties accustomed to Devon Avenue’s working-class South Asian eating places might scratch their heads once they see their plates adorned with dots of sauce. However that’s OK.
“This was a challenge that I began, one thing that has by no means been executed earlier than in America,” Sarkar says.
French cooking is interwoven in most American nice eating experiences, and it’s been a gateway to success for a pair of Chicago eating places that served delicacies from cultures that weren’t at all times welcomed on the nice eating stage. Each Mexique and Parachute earned Michelin stars for mixing Mexican and Korean flavors, respectively. Carlos Gaytán (Tzuco) and Beverly Kim (Parachute) have since graduated away from French references, preferring to cook dinner extra conventional representations of their heritages.
Realizing that historical past, Sarkar needs to remind the general public that his expertise covers greater than cooking Indian meals. He’s aware of European strategies and components. Indienne’s tasting menu consists of galouti, a northern Indian kebob usually made with floor lamb. Indienne’s model makes use of foie gras and rooster liver. If Indienne had been to have an anthem, Sarkar says, it’s Indian meals made with atypical components and a few European strategies. It’s additionally a method to spotlight the labor that goes into Indian cooking, Sarkar notes, displaying respect for the time, variety of spices, and components that it takes to cook dinner some Indian dishes. Nonetheless, a $99 tasting menu is a relative steal in Downtown Chicago. There are additionally wine pairings. Fancy cocktails embody Mumbai, a rum drink made with a clarified milk punk and steeped with fruit and strawberry vinegar.
One other dish on the tasting menu, lamb burrah, is marinated in a paste comprised of hemp seeds and pine nuts, after which cooked on a wood-fired grill. The custom-made grill is one thing of a novelty for Indian eating places. Sarkar says past the tandoor — which is reserved for naan; vegetarians afraid of cross-contamination can rejoice — Indienne’s kitchen received’t appear like a conventional Indian restaurant’s kitchen. After the lamb is cooked over wooden, servers will deliver the dish to the desk together with a personal-sized brass grill.
“I would like it to be enjoyable, I wish to be interactive,” Sarkar says. “It’s not the place you simply go and sit down and go residence. It is going to be extra! It must be enjoyable, it must be mild and ethereal.”
There’s additionally an a la carte menu, with dishes like duck keema and octopus with miso, fennel, and fermented cape gooseberry; octopus has emerged as a stylish merchandise in Chicago. The appetizers and small dishes might be out there on the bar for an off-the-cuff meal the place walk-ins are inspired.
Diners ought to instantly discover using parentheticals on the menu. For these aware of South Asian delicacies, these are callbacks to conventional meals names. Whereas Sarkar is assured, there’s nonetheless fear that some diners is perhaps scared off by sure gadgets. The fried and savory snack referred to as vada, a South Indian specialty, is known as a “lentil doughnut.” The vada in disguise, with its crispiness and saltiness, pairs with Golden Osetra caviar. Champagne is non-obligatory.
There’s additionally a pastry chef on workers with desserts that transcend conventional sweets. Assume jamun & plum sorbet and besan barfi (chocolate cremeux, pistachio financier, kumquat chutney, milk ice cream).
Chris Chacko of Sparrow Espresso, a caffeine supplier to many Chicago nice eating eating places, is engaged on a espresso program however sourcing is a problem, so the staff will wait to introduce that at a later date. Extra vital for an Indian restaurant, they’re additionally engaged on a conventional chai from black tea and spices. Chacko says workers will brew the tea within the method of conventional Indian avenue distributors which amplifies Mailiard flavors: “The chai might be brewed constantly all through service to deepen its profile for authenticity,” Chacko writes.
Sarkar provides they’ll have a tea cart with the chai and different Indian teas. The cart could have totally different sugars (like jaggery and Japanese type), plus totally different sorts of vinegar. A drop of mango vinegar can create a special expertise.
Abruptly, River North has a wide range of Indian choices, from pizza (Moti Cafe) to fusion (Vermillion) to conventional (India Home). Indienne (pronounced “indeen”) is the French phrase for “Indian,” (additionally a reference to a sort of textile bought in India), and can slot in properly with these eating places, Sarkar says. For these clinging to custom, he has one thing to share.
“Tomatoes aren’t from India,” he says. “For those who don’t have tomato, how do you have got butter rooster?”
Indienne formally opens on Wednesday, September 28.
Indienne, 217 E. Huron Avenue, open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Monday dinner service coming quickly. Reservations by way of Tock.