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The modern Indian restaurant is a recent invention, born after Indian independence in 1947. During the upheavals of that year, many Hindus from the Punjab region in the northwest fled to India, especially to the new capital city, New Delhi. Hard working and enterprising, Punjabis opened the first restaurants to cater to the new Indian middle classes and government workers. Naturally, they brought their own regional foods with them, one of these being dishes cooked in a tandoor, a large clay oven. Since then tandoori-cooked dishes, from meats to breads, have become staples of Indian restaurants at home and abroad.

When Prem Khosla bought five-year-old Klay Oven in Chicago’s River North neighborhood in 1995, he intended to recreate as much of his native Punjabi fare as possible. Trained in a New Delhi culinary school and with experience in some of Chicago’s fine dining establishments, he knew that high-quality dishes made from scratch would be popular. They were.

In December, the Khosla family brought the concept to Oak Park, opening in the space that had been Caf¨¦ Le Coq. Minding the Lake Street restaurant is Vishal Khosla, Prem’s son.

The menu is mainly Punjabi, featuring dishes such as Dal Makhani (dal and beans slow-cooked with coriander and cumin), Malai Kofta (pastry filled with vegetables), Palak Paneer (fresh cheese cooked with spinach, tomatoes, butter and coriander), and Sarson Ka Saag (fresh mustard greens made with spinach, ghee, ginger and chiles, among other ingredients). Since many Punjabis are vegetarian, these delicious vegetable dishes are among the 20 or so on the regular menu.

Of course, there are many dishes made in the clay oven. Lamb and chicken are usual in Indian restaurants (no pork or beef here), but prawns, lobster and mahi mahi are interesting variations. Nor are they alone, since quail and cornish hen masalas are also featured. These are Klay Oven inventions, as is a mango and cucumber salad.

Klay Oven has other Indian regional dishes, but with a difference. Vindaloo, from Goa, is a famous Indo-Portuguese dish originally made with pork. Here, it’s made with lamb and a special secret spicing created by the chef.

For lunch, where the pullback of a $10 buffet was much lamented, hearty entr¨¦es ¡ª 10 in all, five of them vegetarian ¡ª abound at $7 and $6, respectively. Another treat here is the stuffed flatbread, available for lunch and dinner, which ranges from $2 to $4 a serving. Among the choices of stuffings for the soft leavened nan are mashed potatoes, mashed cauliflower, minced lamb, ajwain seeds, and an onion-garlic blend. The house filling is a mixture of cheese, cherries, raisins and pistachios.

The flavor of pistachios also surfaces in ice cream, a dense variety that comes served in wedges. Mango is the other flavor option for ice cream.

At the bar that was a prominent feature of the Le Coq space, Klay Oven doesn’t disappoint. Specialty cocktails include such martinis as the Dirty Vindaloo.

Everything at Klay Oven is made on the spot, including grinding and mixing of spices. For that reason, the restaurant can easily adjust the spice levels to suit diners’ wishes, from mild to Indian-hot. Here is a more distinctly regional Indian restaurant than most.

– Bruce Kraig

La Bella

Delicious homemade pasta. Try the Special Cavatelli, with green beans, red peppers and mushrooms in a white wine sauce. Large and hearty ravioli portions, too.

Beth, Chicago

Trattoria 225

Terrific pizza and ravioli. Love the affordable wine list, the roasted beet salad. Everyone’s nice here, and the food is fresh and reasonable!

Jan, Oak Park

Winberie’s

Over the years, I have had many lunches and dinners here, celebrated birthdays and attended many special events catered by Winberie’s. They’ve all been a success. My family particularly loves coming to Sunday brunch and we often take out-of-town guests here as well. They have a nice wine list, and pleasant servers with detailed information on specials; soups seem to always be particularly good. Special requests have always been accommodated. One of our favorites!

BEF, Oak Park

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