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Photo by Katherine Harris
Hiding inside this perfectly cooked rice is chicken biryani.
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Photo by Katherine Harris
Located near Cedar-Riverside, Malabari Kitchen is a gem of a find. The cuisine focuses on India’s rarely encountered southwestern coastal region of Malabar, a one-time center of the spice trade coveted for its black pepper. There’s a lot to enjoy about this place, not the least of which is the fresh, made-to-order, quality food and its aromatic effervescence.
Two intriguing items on the compact-by-Indian-standards menu are a pair of curries most notable for their accompaniments. The palappam—a large, slightly sweet pancake of fermented bread made from rice batter fortified with coconut milk, similar to the better known dosa—is quite unique. Our order came with a creamy, delicious potato curry stew that we spooned onto the pancake, rolled, and ate burrito style. Less engaging, but nonetheless interesting, was a curry of hard-boiled egg sided with idiyappam—a traditional Malabar tangle of rice flour noodles that is somehow healthily crisped by steaming rather than frying.
The chicken biryani was arguably the best I’ve had in the Twin Cities. A heap of perfectly cooked rice was flavored and visibly tinged with an abundance of herbs and spices; nuggets of tender marinated chicken were hidden inside the rice; and the preparation was served with condiments of mango chutney, hot pepper paste, and fresh raita—something I hadn’t previously been offered with this dish.
The handful of Malabari curry entrees are all skillfully crafted, albeit a bit light on the proteins. The favorite was the meen moilee—a casserole of perfectly timed shellfish swimming in a rich, thick yellow curry and coconut cream sauce. It was superlative. For a spicy option, consider the beef ularthiyathu—a tongue-tingling stir-fry of rib-eye strips, masala-style spices, and bits of coconut. We also thoroughly enjoyed a curry of spiced, marinated cubes of chicken breast simmered in a traditional red curry blend. The only curry that didn’t make our taste buds dance was a nondescript mushroom preparation.
Appetizers are all fried in nature, and though they emerge crisp and non-oily, they are more filling than they are compelling. The best choices include light onion fritters, lentil patties, and mini samosas stuffed with spiced lentils. Be sure to request both the tamarind and coriander dips, which can be put to good use as dimensional flavor boosts.
As much as I absolutely enjoyed this place, readers should be aware of a major caveat. The enthusiastic and personable owner-chefs, whose backgrounds are in alternative healing practices, have never previously operated a restaurant. They’re admittedly learning the ropes as they go. At the time of my visit, the kitchen was still preparing each and every dish just about from scratch. The wait time stretched and stretched; we had to replenish the parking meter twice. As we were the only diners, I can’t imagine what it would be like if more than a few of the other wooden tables were seated at the same time. What I can guarantee is that your patience will be well rewarded with some unique, deftly prepared food that for my money represents a major recalibration of the local Indian food rankings. 414 1/2 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls., 612-339-9385, malabarikitchen.com