Last year, I visited the northern Indian city of Jaipur in Rajasthan. I posted on this blog about a dinner I had there with a local family of the Rajput, the warrior clan.
Although they don't seem to have much Rajasthani food on the menu, the folks at Jaipur in the undeniably trendy Randolph corridor do have some fine items on their menu. They do an admirable job of representing pan-Indian cuisine that you don't have to drive all the way to Devon to sample.
We started with a bhel, which I'd had as an Indian street food, usually served wrapped in a paper cone. Bhel is made of fresh vegetables, some diced onion and potato, crispy puffed rice and noodles, and moderate spices. Tamarind sauce is sometimes sprinkled on top, for a tangy, salty, spicy snack. Called Bombay Bhel at this restaurant (bhel likely originated in Mumbai), we enjoyed this appetizer on one of the very hottest nights in July, and it seemed just perfect for the weather: very light, tasty, and texturally fun.
The butter chicken – called on the menu Chicken Makhani – was just spectacular in its satisfying simplicity. The chicken is marinated in yogurt and spices and cooked in a traditional tandoori oven. The meat is then removed from the bone and simmered in a mixture of cumin, coriander and, most critically, fenugreek. Now, fenugreek is one of those spices that you just like or not. I like it, and this was one of those rare dishes that I kept thinking about days after eating it. In India, they would use ghee, or clarified butter, in the sauce, and it did taste like they used ghee in this preparation at Jaipur
Lamb is indeed one of the traditional foods of Rajasthan, and we enjoyed the small copper pot of this meat in a lush sauce. Sometimes at Indian restaurants, I find the meat in the sauces is, shall we say, substandard. The lamb in this dish was very good, meaty, not gristly or overly fatty. The sauce was just slightly hot from chili, and like the sauce for the butter chicken, it demanded to be scooped up with Indian bread, which we did, greedily.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was the Mango Lassi Tini. I never know what to drink at Indian restaurants: beer is okay but bloating, wine is usually lost in the spicing, and cocktails just don't seem right. The Mango Lassi Tini – yogurt, spices, mango and rum – was a perfect accompaniment for Indian food. It's slightly sweet and creamy (which is a good balance to the spice of the food), and the alcohol provides solvent qualities to cleanse the palate between bites of aggressively flavorful food.
From our house to Jaipur restaurant on Randolph is about four blocks: two blocks to the Ridgeland Green Line stop and then two more blocks from the Morgan stop. It's worth the trip.
847 W. Randolph