Annapurna’s Gift: Mirchi’s Biryani


After the superb paella at Tarsan i Jane recently, I was bowled over by another world-class rice dish, this one originating from Hyderabad in India. The city is known for its special kind of biryani. Dum biryani involves a painstaking process of layering basmati rice and meat (usually goat or chicken) that has been marinated in a complex blend of aromatics, curd (dahi), herbs and spices. The whole cooking vessel is tightly sealed and gently cooked over a stove until meat and rice are tender. This description doesn’t begin to explain the steps involved in the actual preparation and the long list of ingredients that can go into the dish. I would likely never attempt it.

Dum, meaning something like ‘breathing in,’ refers to the gentle steaming to cook the rice and meat. Since this is an entrée with lots of rice over the meat, in order to ensure consistency of texture, cooks first parboil the rice in seasoned water. They top the meat with a layer of half-cooked rice and successively add more layers of rice at increasing levels of doneness so that the top grains don’t finish firmer than those at the bottom.

Our chicken dum biryani was beautiful to look at. With some culinary sleights-of-hand, the rice appeared in shades of yellow, brown, white and orange, the first from turmeric and the last so vivid that food coloring must’ve been used. And the fragrance was equally splendid with aromas of garlic, ginger, fried onions, basmati, and warm spices, especially cardamom and cinnamon. The dark meat pieces of chicken couldn’t have been more fork-tender nor flavorful. The dish also had a kick from red chile powder.

On the weekends (including Fridays), Mirchi offers biryanis made with goat (called mutton on the menu) and a larger sized combination (chicken and goat). Dum biryani is Mirchi’s specialty and the restaurant makes one of the best. (☆☆☆☆)

I had my first manchurian at Spice Route in Bellevue, a name that describes a kind of dish with Chinese flavors of sweet and sour and Indian spices and chiles. Spice Route’s gobi manchurian is one of my favorite appetizers there. Although manchurian is not a common item on an Indian menu, at least here in the Seattle area, Mirchi does have it on theirs, made with cauliflower (gobi), paneer, baby corn, chicken or fish (which we ordered). Theirs has a nice balance of sweet and tart with a serious burn, a true makeover to adapt to fiery tastes if there ever was one. (☆☆☆)

Fish manchurian

Fish manchurian

The eggplant dish that I’ve seen most on local menus is baingan bharta. So it came as a surprise that Mirchi’s only offered eggplant curry (gutti vakanya), which piqued my curiosity. Nestled in a gravy were little eggplants slit lengthwise to the stems in a cross. The masala was a rich flavor combination of peanuts, coconut flakes, tamarind, sugar (jaggery), aromatics and spices, which begged to be eaten with rice or naan. (☆☆☆)

Eggplant curry

Eggplant curry (gutti vakanya kura)

In an interesting twist to Indian buffets at lunchtime, only on Mondays Mirchi substitutes the buffet with a thali meal, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian.

Mirchi Indian Restaurant
5625 221st Pl SE, Ste 100
Issaquah, WA 98027
425.651.4343

Veggies to the Max: Bombay House


Purely vegetarian restaurants are hard to come by. Chances are better in large metropolitan areas, Seattle included. To cater to the growing numbers of vegetarians, it’s small wonder that there aren’t more Indian vegetarian restaurants in America since the subcontinent is generally regarded as the greatest source of vegetarian cuisine in the world. In the Seattle metro area, there are only a handful. It seems that remaining a vegetarian-only restaurant is difficult to sustain since it relies on a certain clientele to keep it going. An Indian vegetarian restaurant in particular might face a greater challenge since a standard one normally has a very good veggie entrée selection while simultaneously satisfying carnivorous appetites. Udupi Palace came and went in Bellevue. Now, in Bellevue’s Eastgate area, Bombay House opened last year, occupying the space formerly held by O’Char, a Thai restaurant. Will it survive? Only time will tell.

recess

Situating Bombay House at this location might at the very least appeal to the Indian employees who work across I-90 at the Eastgate Microsoft, Verizon and Boeing complexes. Its closest competition is India Gate, which is much closer to the high-tech companies and is a good restaurant besides, having been there for many years. At lunchtime, it’s de rigueur for Indian restaurants to offer all-you-can-eat buffets. I can’t think of a single one in this area that doesn’t. Time was when these buffets cost $5.95, but nowadays it’s more like $10. Because of competition, prices are within $1 of each other across all restaurants, so an edge might boil down to offering more buffet items or demonstrating higher quality, perhaps even service or ambience. For $9.95, Bombay House had eleven entrées, plus condiments and chai. Spice Route in the Overlake area has many more. A nice touch was serving freshly made naan at the table, drizzled on top with what possibly was ghee. Service was friendly and cheerful.

The entrées themselves were tasty, though nothing was extraordinary. Both my wife and I did really like the palaak paneer. Other items included daal maharani, Bombay aloo, vegetarian korma, karhi pakora, coconut-tofu masala, two kinds of rice, pakora, and spinach soup. About half were vegan, which is good news for vegetarians on a stricter diet. All the items were mildly, if at all spicy, a big plus for my wife, with the exception of a tasty, hot mint chutney and a chile sauce that seemed very much like Indonesian sambal oelek. The lone dessert item was kheer, a rice pudding with very nice cardamom flavor. A large urn dispensed unsweetened chai.

entrees

The buffet was rather typical, somewhat diminished by a limited selection. Bombay House will not win over India Gate patrons to any significant degree. Yet, glancing at the dinner menu, I do envision the restaurant appealing to vegan customers, as they will be able to eat over 60 percent of the main dishes.

Bombay House
15100 SE 38th St. # 305A
Bellevue WA – 98006
425.746.2114

Saffron Grill: Mediterranean Goodies at an Indian Restaurant


After a pre-screening of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, we had in mind to return to Setsuna Japanese Restaurant to try some of their other things for dinner. But we would have been a half hour early before opening, not so appealing when the weather was windy and rainy. Driving along Northgate Way, we spotted Saffron Grill, whose sign advertises it as a Mediterranean restaurant. A quick look at the menu, however, establishes it as much more of an Indian restaurant with a small Mediterranean representation in the salads and entrées. Some quick research on the internet revealed that the owner previously operated Cedars, an Indian restaurant in the U District with the same nod toward Mediterranean cuisine, before moving to Northgate and opening Saffron. (Cedars is still operating, apparently under new management.) Interesting that Cedars’ name also suggests a Mediterranean provenance.

Despite Saffron’s scores of Indian selections, we split tabbouleh salad and shish taouk, but not before succumbing to tonight’s special cocktail, passionfruit mojito and a glass of Kingfisher on tap. The cocktail menu has drinks evoking mostly exotic names and places (such as Maharani Mojito, Mango Martini, Calcutta Pear Martini, Bangalor Rose Martini). The beer selection is extensive with bottles from all over the world. The many wine bottles filling the nooks along the west wall show a very respectable selection as well, including tonight’s special pour of Cougar Crest Estate Grown syrah. From all appearances, the mojito looked like a standard one, pale greenish in color from mulled mint leaves, but there was an unmistakeable passionfruit flavor. Made from a syrup, it was rather sweet but nonetheless tasty. The beer was smooth and ice cold.

Aside from the standard lemon juice and olive oil dressing, the tabbouleh had a savory note. I couldn’t figure out what was responsible. The waitress couldn’t (or didn’t) offer an explanation. The parsley was very finely minced with chopped tomato, bulgur and green onions adding support. This was a nicely balanced tabbouleh, not as puckeringly lemony as Omar’s used to make it, but more refined—in short, a fine salad (☆☆☆).

Splendid was Saffron’s shish taouk version, five whole boneless chicken thighs alternating with green bell peppers on a large bamboo skewer, and grilled (or possibly baked in a tandoor). Our utensils did not include a knife, so we were faced with using only our forks to cut the chicken. It was so moist and tender that a knife was in fact unnecessary, though we did still ask for one. The lemon-yogurt marinade did an outstanding job of tenderizing and flavoring the chicken. The chicken’s golden tint suggested turmeric. The toum, creamy, garlicky and delicious, was a thin aioli with bright acidity. Oddly (but maybe not so much), the accompanying rice was basmati with Indian flavors, mixed with zucchini, carrots and potatoes. Even if the rice was quite ordinary, the taouk itself was worth getting again (☆☆☆½).

Our dinner was topped off with a cardamom and saffron ice cream. All I can say is delish (☆☆☆½)!

As the evening wore on, the restaurant began to fill up, obviously a popular venue to attract this kind of patronage on a Wednesday evening. The happy hour menu is quite extensive, with examples from both the subcontinent and the Mediterranean, ranging in price from $3.99 to $7.99, served everyday, 2-7pm.

Saffron Grill
2132 N Northgate Way
Seattle, WA 98133
206.417.0707

Dinner at MokSHA Indian Cuisine (Bellevue, WA)


Lamb Karaikudi with naan (photo taken at home)

Lamb Karaikudi with naan (photo taken at home)

After an enjoyable afternoon at the movies (we saw “Silver Linings Playbook”), we were trying to think of a place to eat around Bellevue Square. The thing is, there hardly are any appealing restaurants in what is arguably the hippest shopping complex in all of western Washington. I know people who live in Seattle who drive over THERE to do serious shopping, in no small measure attracted by the free parking. But a destination restaurant? Hmm.

As we were heading back to our car, we noticed MokSHA, an East Indian restaurant that opened recently.

MokSHA took over the space previously occupied by Luciano Ristorante on Bellevue Way, virtually underneath the skywalk that connects Lincoln Square to Bellevue Square. The formality conveyed by the linens, floor-to-ceiling curtains of white, gauzy fabric and black minimalist interior quickly disappears when the friendly wait staff greets and serves you, though the service was somewhat pokey tonight with less than a full house of customers.

We started off with Arugula Salad, a generous portion of baby arugula mixed with feta cheese and toasted cashews on top of pappadum. The curry-garlic oil was barely detectable on an underdressed salad. On hindsight, tamarind and mint chutneys, accompaniments listed on the menu, failed to appear.

Continue reading