The new Copper Pot Indian Grill, lodged in the street-level front corner of the Lumber Exchange Building in downtown Minneapolis, is the most ambitious Indian restaurant to come along since the ill-fated OM.
The menu is brimming with dishes that are unheard of in these parts. Noteworthy specialties include tandoor-roasted Tellicherry pepper duck, lamb tenderloin in a cardamom and saffron cream sauce, and fried chickpea-floured spinach leaves. The array of fresh spices used is impressive; it was impossible for me to keep up with the host’s descriptions of the scratch seasonings that flavored the dishes. However, in some dishes such as the biryanis, diners need to be wary of biting down on the intense cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and other whole spices that mine the servings.
With such an abundance of interesting dishes from which to choose, we gave into temptation and sampled quite a few of the 20 appetizer choices. One of the signature dishes is the Malabar blue crab, a small plate of impeccably fresh lump crabmeat that has been marinated in coconut milk and assorted spices. We ended up creating wonderful little flatbread treats by spooning the shellfish onto the rice and lentil pappadums that were set out at the start of the meal.
Another standout was the Hyderabadi chicken 65—a lightly spicy, perfectly rendered version of this suddenly omnipresent roasted chicken nugget starter. A couple of other quickly consumed appetizers were the Karvari shrimp—an Indian-style tempura of plump seafood dusted in curry and chickpea flours and served with a smoked tomato chutney—and the vegetarian samosas, grease-free turnovers filled with a mild pea and potato mixture. Least captivating, the Ragada patties were sauteed Indian latkes topped with onion, tomato, and bits of crunchy lentil noodles. They were rather drab.
A couple of cream-style dishes were superb and suave. One was the classic chicken korma with a velvety, orange-tinged gravy and the other was the dum puck, adroitly braised lamb tenderloin paired with saffron- and cardamom-suffused sauce. Also deliciously satisfying was a pair of clay oven lamb chops: The Frenched, eat-with-your-hands meat lollipops had been rubbed with black cumin, cardamom, and garam masala and boasted a sublime smoky edge. For whatever reason, the medium-rare lamb emerged a tad mushy, but the great taste definitely won us over. In contrast, the coconut lamb saag sounded interesting but was a dud. It had almost no flavor, and the runny, oily sauce was a turnoff. The bread list is shorter than at most Indian places, but both the plain naan and the unique fresh mint and pomegranate paratha proved to be great sauce soppers.
All these positive qualities notwithstanding, the prices seemed to draw the most attention. The standards typically run a quarter or so more than they do at other local Indian restaurants, and while the food is for the most part flavorful, it’s not always distinctive. Take for example the classic chicken tikka masala. Priced at $13, the attractive sloped bowl serving dish presentation offered butter knife–tender pieces of chicken breast bathed in a creamy tomato-tinged sauce. While it was pleasant, it seemed understated and wanting for a hint of piquancy.
The strange collection of homemade desserts runs the gamut from a passable tres leches cake to avocado-pecan ice cream. Our chai kulfi arrived so rock hard that it was difficult to cut with a knife. Once it started to defrost a bit, it was actually quite refreshing.
The décor is minimalist: a few fabric wall hangings and a collection of copper pots amid dark wood that includes the tables. If there’s one change I’d recommend, it would be to turn up the lighting a little.
In general, the service is a notch or two above the rushed and diffident experience at many Indian spots, but on both visits what started out as impressively attentive and cheerful fell off to abandonment as the meal wound down.
Overall, the Copper Pot is expanding the local boundaries of Indian cuisine, and while the food here isn’t always palate-blazing, it’s definitely trailblazing. 10 S. 5th St., Mpls., 612-331-5577, copperpotus.com