Photos by Craig Bares
Gandhi Mahal's five-spice garlic shrimp
I recently decided it was time to take another sampling of local Indian food. My findings? A buzz-worthy hipster haunt and an oddly inspired newcomer—both worth trying.
This longfellow spot has been the recipient of nearly universal bon mots since it opened, and yet I’d never managed to make the pilgrimage. Walking in the door on a recent visit, I sensed it was unlikely to be another curry place where everything looks and tastes pretty much the same. Wonderful smells of aromatic spices permeated the handsomely tapestried interior, which was packed even on a weeknight. Plus, there was live music—on our visit, a sitar player.
The menu is extensive and runs on for pages, with a one-page supplement of seasonal specialties that includes a healthy selection of vegetarian options. There was barely a disappointment. It takes a bit of trial and error to calibrate the degree of spicing, but if you request it “Bollywood jana” (extra hot), it will be!
Leading off with a tempting selection of appetizers, the menu includes the ubiquitous samosas, vegetable fritters (the bhujia or onion option being a standout), and papadum (cumin wafers). All of these munchies were notably grease-free, but considering their filling nature and the many entrée choices, I’d recommend bypassing them.
We tried a couple of uncommon dishes that earned top honors. One was a creamy pagal coconut curry that was suave, smooth, and nuanced with shredded coconut. The other was sizzling five-spice garlic shrimp in a clay oven preparation that delighted with an essence of lime and garlic. The curries can be ordered with a choice of primary ingredients that range from vegetables and tofu to salmon and goat. We tried the latter in a sampling of the Moghal Saagwalla with a sauce that includes spinach, onions, and mint leaves. If you’ve never sampled goat, this is an excellent platform for an introduction; the tender meat has no gamey taste at all and meshes perfectly with the fragrant gravy. Speaking of which, the bread basket is piled high with puffy delights made for sopping up leftover sauces. I’d also recommend ending your meal with a bowl of khulfi, a dish of homemade ice cream mingled with pistachios and saffron.
Our service was great, several cuts above the usual Indian hole-in-the-wall indifference, but I would advise ordering in waves. I left Gandhi Mahal feeling that it was by far the best Indian food I’d had in the Twin Cities. 3009 27th Ave. S., Mpls., 612-729-5222
Curry ‘n’ Noodles
A couple of nights later, I found myself entering a dubious-sounding new prospect in Hopkins. As was the case at Gandhi Mahal, there were some great fragrances wafting from the kitchen, but my skepticism was reinforced by the relatively spartan, cramped interior filled with a dozen or so tables. On the encouraging side, the place was hopping and the majority of the diners were Indian.
At first glance, the menu appeared somewhat problematic—a lengthy selection of Indian specialties followed by Chinese stir-fries and Asian noodle dishes. However, a closer examination provided lots of pleasant surprises, most notably a number of Hyderabadi dishes, a descriptor I haven’t seen locally. Hyderabad is a southern Indian state known for its biryanis and special hot garlic sauce. It is also the original home of one of the restaurant’s two chefs. An order of chicken Hyderabadi produced a scrumptious combination of succulent meat and rich red gravy. There was also an extensive list of tandoor specialties that included a platter of delectable marinated, oven-seared lamb chops. We learned after the fact that if you prefer your meat less than well done, you should let the kitchen know.
We tried several unique appetizers, included cut mirchi—bite-size battered and fried peppers stuffed with a chili paste—and chicken lollipops, a crowd-pleaser of slightly fatty, spicy battered drummies served with Sichuan sauce. The Colonel could learn something from these! Later, the chef told us we should have tried Chicken 65, a dish with its own Wikipedia entry. Every curry we sampled sang with deep flavor, and our only regret was not having been better informed about some of the specialties. The evening’s only real disappointment was an order of lackluster, stringy Singapore noodles.
Curry ‘n’ Noodles proved to be a charming find with food that’s every bit as good as—if not better than—Gandhi Mahal’s. Curry ‘n’ Noodles, 802 Mainstreet, Hopkins, 952-681-7834