The Dining Report – Indish

Where’s Lassi When You Need Her?


First of all, I hate to disappoint you all, but this will be a rare review, one where I can’t begin by going on and on and on infinitive about the history of the Indish, or its neighborhood, or the space it occupies, because¬† I really don’t know any of that. I don’t even know how long Indish has been in operation, although I think it’s somewhat new, after all, I’ve never heard of it, and I do try to keep up somewhat well, unless places are in far SW. The first I heard of Indish was a very positive review I read two weeks before in the A & E. I know nothing about the space, except that for years Star’s Antique Mall was on the corner here, and perhaps in this space as well (Cha Cha Cha’s very busy high-end taqueria is in the corner spot now). And except for a few selected areas, I actually know very little about NW 21st in this sector, except that it’s somewhat off the beaten path as far as 21st more famous restaurant row up north a few blocks.

IMG_1222Here’s what I have read about Indish. The owner is an affable Indian fellow from England, formerly in the field of law, who moved here with his wife, a chef, and decided to open an Indian restaurant featuring the more subtle flavors of Northern Indian food, rather than the showy “wedding food Indian” cuisine that most East Indian restaurants in the USA feature. This means lighter foods rubbed in spices for flavor, rather than heavy, hot dishes smothered in curries. Another difference, things like chapati instead of naan (okay, I admit it, this one broke my heart). Also, highly unusual, Indish has recently reconfigured their entire menu to what they call tapas sized plates, which just sounds too weird to me when it comes to Indian food, so I’ll just refer to them as “small plates”. They also have a highly chatty website/blog, which it looks like they update continually, and that comes across as rather endearingly personal (Laura, chef/wife recently sprained her ankle, so restaurant was closed for a few days, things like that).

The restaurant space is a tad off putting, mainly because the front area radiates fancy while the dining area in the rear screams casual. The concrete walls are a nice olivey tone (I think, it’s rather a dark place) and the front and bar are all dressed up with two person leather love seats with coffee tables in front of them where you can enjoy a drink or some small plates in dim lighting. The tables and chairs in the dining area though aren’t the fanciest, and with a little investment in this area, heavier, more upscale tables and quality, dark wood chairs, this could be a pretty tasteful place. It’s not that it’s not pleasant now, I just found it disconcerting to have all the quality seating in the bar area. These are tough economic times though, and I think Indish is still in its junior years, so I suppose better to concentrate on quality food now and worry about all the finery later.

I had read in the initial review I saw of Indish that certain standardized “Indian Dishes” we are used to at all the East Indian Restaurants here would not be present at Indish, some because of region, and others because of preparation. One of these was Lassi beverages, in this case because the chef at Indish, one of the owners, prepares as many things as possible in house, and because she is unhappy with the quality of America yogurt, and does not have time to make her own, there would be no Lassis at Indish, mango or otherwise. Certain folks in our group are obviously used to having their expectations met as often as possible, and could not stop mentioning the lack of a mango lassi. They were even still emailing me later, telling me that I must include this deficit in my review. IMG_1215Eight million different dishes to select from (and we ordered most of them) and some people have their whole evening colored by the lack of a drink, sheesh. (I suppose I wasn’t that sympathetic to their plight, as I don’t even particularly care for mangos, which certainly colored my opinion toward the Mango Cosmo I ordered to start my meal).

As some of us on this evening were running a bit later than others, those of us who initially arrived decided to get some food going, at least in a minor way. Although, as previously noted, I was a bit disappointed by a lack of naan, which I love so much I eat it at home and work quite often, we did see some sort of flat bread going by, which I didn’t realize in advance was called Chapati. IMG_1219We selected the Crispy Grilled Chapati brushed with herb butter (rather than sun-dried tomatoes) and it arrived looking like a cross between middle eastern flatbread and a tortilla. It taste fine, but the thin airless preparation certainly made it less enjoyable than hot, puffy naan.

A least a couple of us had cross over plates in mind to begin our evening, especially things like Tandoori Chicken Tikka and Tandoori Creamy Chicken Caesar Salad, but Indish seems to take the small plates are for sharing idea very seriously, so we were discouraged from ordering more than one order of anything, told it would be better to get one order only of various things, then if we liked them, we could get more later. David and Shawin both thought the Peanut Salad sounded good (peanuts with lemon and chilli cilantro dressing) so an order of that was brought to the table, as well as, at the owner’s recommendation (he was mixing drinks) an order of Indish’s Onion Rings (actually Pakoras with Tomato Chutney) which in this case were onions coated in ground chickpeas. IMG_1218He warned us in advance that they wouldn’t be crispy like we were used to, and I could tell by his remarks that he’s probably gotten complaints about their texture from previous diners. They were by no means bad, but the thick chickpea coating was a tad limp and perhaps too mildly spiced. IMG_1217As for the Peanut Salad, the main issue with both parties who ordered it seemed to be that it wasn’t at all what they were expecting, too saucy and peanuty (basically about a cup of peanuts in a thick reddish sauce). I sampled it and thought it wasn’t bad, largely because it reminded me of salsa, and just needed some tortilla chips for accompaniment.

IMG_1220Everyone seemed to agree that the Tandoori Creamy Chicken Caesar Salad was a big improvement, although rather a strange presentation, a decent sized plate of caesar salad with a whole large chicken breast and a sharp knife to slice off a hunk. It was a tad cumbersome to eat, but the chicken breast was delicious, and not all all dried out like most tandoori chicken preparations.

By now all of our dining party had arrived, so it was time to get the major ordering under way (especially as these last two additions are major orderers). The waitress, who was nice enough and a good server, not to mention from the South of England, didn’t seem to totally grasp the typical restaurant concept that the more food customers order, the more money the restaurant makes (or maybe she just didn’t want the kitchen overwhelmed with too many orders, as it looked like there were only 2-3 people cooking). So once again, she insisted on guiding us during ordering, insisting we cut back on what she considered an excessive amount of selections. Consequently, as she went around the table, the people who ordered toward the end didn’t necessarily get to order everything they had planned on ordering, since the waitress basically thought it best not to order multiple orders of anything, and stopped writing things down when she determined we had enough food (No wonder she was such a thin person). Poor Frank, he ordered last, and as Grace ordered first, and is such an “thorough, all-encompassing orderer”, I don’t think Frank got to select anything he wanted (especially as the waitress had decided we had enough lamb dishes, as earlier she seemed to decide one Aubergine preparation was enough). IMG_1224Certainly in these times of overweight masses of population and so many people in our own state hungry, no one needs to order an excessive, wasteful amount of food. That being said, because of the server’s firm hand in our food selection, no one was really sure exactly what they had ended up ordering, and we were never sure when the food would cease to come to the table, as certain items never arrived (and it turned out the waitress never wrote them down).

Since Indish was so firm on the sharing concept, it was decided that everyone would share all the food, and equally share the bill, more or less a first for a regular Restaurant Roulette dinner (although I think we split the bill at that Dim Sum afternoon a few years ago).IMG_1229 Because of this, I ended up tasting almost everything, as I think most people at the table did (I don’t think a couple of people tried the basmati rice or Raita, both additional side dishes). Consequently, I did have a few nibbles of lamb dishes, contrary to my usual no lamb rule.

With so many people sampling so many different dishes, it’s really hard to comment on what particular people thought of various small plates. IMG_1228Here’s a list of some of the other dishes we tried though: Chicken and Mushroom Kofta Korma, Pork Balchoa, Lamb Kheema, Lamb Kebab, Aloo Gabi (potatoes and cauliflower), Lamb Tikki Makhani, Aubergine and Mushroom Paji, Paneer (fried Indian cheese) Fillet Makhani , and Tandoori Chicken Breast. Having bites of so many different dishes, all prepared with common Indian spices in somewhat similar preparations, all seemed good, but with so much food being tasted, few plates really stood out from the crowd. IMG_1232One exception, tried and true old Tandoori Chicken Breast, this even more delicious than that accompanying the Ceasar salad, this slightly more char broiled, but incredibly tender and juicy. Chicken Breast is always my least favorite piece of chicken, a thought shared by several of my table mates, all agreeing it’s just too dry. IMG_1231We all thought this was an amazing exception, however, so moist and succulent. Other favorites on this evening seemed to be the Pork Balchoa (supposedly it was cooked with a hint of apple) and the Chicken and Mushroom Korta Korma (chicken meatballs braised in an almond and cashew sauce).

Although the service was good, and the people at Indish nice, it seems like there was a long time frame between the first and second wave of food (in our case, tsunami of food). IMG_1230The owner, when asked earlier by David how they were doing after the very positive review in the A & E a couple of weeks before, admitted that Indish was somewhat overwhelmed by the surge in clientele, and was still learning to cope with their rapidly increasing business. As the restaurant was full on this evening, and our table was ordering a multitude of dishes, this slight lag in food is probably understandable. When the food arrived, however, most comments were positive as far as quality and general pricing were concerned. IMG_1233And in spite of the large quantity of food we had eaten, we still managed to sample several desserts at our table, the Coconut Mango Cheesecake, Creme Caramel, and the Chocolate Pudding (at the suggestion of the waitress, who was worried we had forgotten to get something on the menu). All items had their fans and detractors. Although Grace thought it wasn’t bad, I wasn’t too keen on the cheesecake, largely because of the mango thing again. The creme caramel was quite to my liking though, very creamy and vanilla laden, and very close to the one I love at Tapalaya. IMG_1235The Chocolate Pudding was definitely the most head turning (and/or head spinning) dessert, as the whipped topping was doused in rum. Although she liked the taste, Grace was afraid to take more than a couple of bites, as she feared a DUII on her way home. I was more afraid on the intense chocolate, as sometimes that keeps me awake if I eat it after 7:00 PM or so. David, what a sport, although he never really gets dessert, he gamely ate most of the “pudding”, you would have thought it was doused in Drambuie.

Interestingly, although everyone stressed being extremely full at the end of this evening, I myself was just pleasantly sated, not at all overwhelmed by food. I think this was largely because I just sampled dishes, rather than tucked in and devoured one particular item. IMG_1234Grace had told us earlier that her secret to eating a great deal of food was to eat as fast as possible, because when you slowly savor your meal, you get fuller faster. Having recently read a story on people who practice extreme calorie limitation by actually chewing everything they consume at least 100 times, including glasses of milk, I would have to say that many experts on food consumption would agree with her, eat fast and you can probably eat more. Although I didn’t see anyone at this particular RR meal actually bolting their food, we did get a decent amount of food ordered and consumed, with what amounted to very sparse leftovers. It’s hard to say, however, if this was due to the waitress restricting our food ordering. or due to our party of five adjusting their appetites to the food present.

Indish came across as a good Indian restaurant with friendly ownership and generally modestly priced food. Asian food has got to be some of the absolute best for small sampling portions, and the food of India is certainly no exception, especially with its diverse selection of unusual vegetable dishes and non-beef oriented meats prevalent in this culture. Perhaps, however, the staff should be a bit more laissez-faire about people ordering multiple orders of certain items or similar items, after all, it has to be good for a restaurant when their customers let their inner glutton shine. Also, Indish probably needs to be a bit more flexible when multiple credit cards come out, especially in these tough economic times, people don’t always have a ready wad of cash at their disposal, and if they want to only accept a certain amount of credit cards per group, they need to list this on their menu like other places do, so if necessary, people can make a mad dash to the ATM machine before it’s time to pay. Which is not to say Indish did not accept our multiple credit cards to pay our bill (three out of four parties paid with plastic) it just would have better if the waitress had not revealed her irritation with multiple cards so obviously, especially right before tip time (although she was still compensated more than adequately). We may have been one happy group sharing food, but this hardly means we all share group finances (although if we do start sharing finances, I want to make sure the medical family is in my group).