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

Rice ‘n Spicy at Noodle Boat

I’ve posted before that Noodle Boat in Issaquah serves some of the best Thai food in the Seattle area. The current special is called Rice ‘n Spicy, which seems like deconstructed fried rice. What made it extraordinary was saucy and spicy rice, likely a combination of nam pla and sweet soy sauce, with plenty of tongue-searing heat (I ordered it ‘hot’) from chile paste, mixed with protein of your choice (mine was chicken) and a fried egg. To add to the wonderful presentation, there were plenty of sliced fresh vegetables: green mango, red onion, green beans, cucumber and a lime wedge. Even if the sauce was a bit too sweet and chicken breast slices cooked dry, this was an outstanding dish (☆☆☆☆).

Noodle Boat
700 NW Gilman Blvd Ste E104B
Issaquah, WA 98027

Max’s World Cafe: Rapture in Issaquah

It’s easy to miss, even as you’re driving slowly along Front Street in Issaquah looking for it. The storefront is just a sliver, which also describes the very tiny space inside, taken up by four small tables and a skinny counter with stools. Don’t let any of that fool you. Max’s World Cafe is world-class cuisine. The food would befit the finest restaurants of Seattle, but Issaquah is where Chef Edna Noronha has chosen to serve her customers. The restaurant has been in operation since 2010, collecting a loyal clientele ever since. The menu is broad but there is a definite influence from the cuisine of Goa, India.

Chef Edna, as her customers like to call her, judging from the cards and letters posted on a bulletin board, hails from Goa. She also graduated from the Culinary Institute of America as valedictorian of her class in 2006. She is the one who takes your orders and, once served, will gladly talk about the provenance of her food, none of which has touched additives or preservatives of any kind. Everything is made from scratch, including three hot sauces and spice blends, the former available for sale and the latter, likely soon. The cooking of Goa is represented on the menu by its distinctive Indian, Portuguese  and Arabic influences. The menu is small and the prices are somewhat high, no doubt because of the quality ingredients and careful and labor-intensive preparation that she invests her food with.

My wife and I decided to eat at Max’s after a musical performance at Village Theatre, directly across the street. Because I had eaten and loved the African Portuguese Chicken on a previous visit, I recommended to my wife that she order it. The chicken, deboned with skin left on, is marinated for days in a piri piri marinade before being grilled. The result is nothing short of perfection (☆☆☆☆), as moist a chicken breast as I’ve ever had. The chiles in the piri piri sauce sneaks up on you, complemented with flavors of smoked paprika, red wine vinegar, garlic and spice blend. Perfectly grilled, the chicken is an exceptional combination of crispiness and succulence.

African Portuguese Chicken

African Portuguese Chicken

I order lamb only when I eat out because I don’t make it at home. Today’s special was Lamb Shanks. Bar none, it was the best lamb entrée I’ve ever eaten (☆☆☆☆), the kind of lamb that falls off the bone with the slightest nudge, the result also of days of marination and slow roasting for 8 hours. It was topped with cilantro pesto. The lamb itself is grass-fed and hails from Australia. Amazing, incredible stuff.

Lamb Shank

Lamb Shank

Normally, we don’t get dessert except on special occasions. But, with our incomparable meals just completed, we wondered if the magic could strike again with something sweet. Chef Edna suggested Sticky Date Cake served with vanilla ice cream. To think of it as cake in the usual sense would be a mistake for it was more like a cake pudding darkened with date sauce. It appeared to be dense at first sight, but it was moist and just sweet enough. On top was poured a most delicious caramel sauce, intensely buttery, a perfect complement to the cake and two small scoops of exquisite vanilla ice cream. This was an outstanding dessert (☆☆☆☆).

Sticky Date Cake

Sticky Date Cake

Chef Edna told us that she plans to move the operation to a new restaurant around the corner, possibly next year, that will seat many more people and serve breakfast besides. She’ll change the menu at the current location to serve food at a lower price point. If the quality of her lunch and dinner menus is any indication, I venture to say the new Max’s should contend for the best breakfast place on the Eastside.

I’ve never given the highest rating to everything we’ve eaten at one meal. This is the first time. The food was, in a word, rapturous.

Max’s World Cafe
212 Front St N
Issaquah, WA