Category: Bloomington

Bucket List Chronicles: India Cafe for dinner, homemade chapati for breakfast

India Cafe
7826 Portland Avenue South
Bloomington, MN 55420

This weekend, Jake was itching for a Bucket List Chronicle adventure.

These last couple of weeks in the Twin Cities have been grueling, filled with moving responsibilities, weddings, and farewells.

As I have previously mentioned, I enjoy shopping at the well-stocked TBS Mart and noticed India Cafe a few doors down the strip mall.  I have never seen a blogger mention this tiny restaurant and my curiosity was piqued.

Jake and I visited India Cafe’s website and called in an order for pick-up.  As I placed our order over the phone, I noticed the restaurant’s deafening background noise.  Could it really be that busy on a Sunday evening?  The online menu does not list prices and woman who took my order said she was not able to provide a total or price estimation.

I am always annoyed by restaurants that put the effort into posting their menus online or in a pdf format, yet do not include prices.  Just post the damn prices.

We arrived at the tiny restaurant and struggled to remain out of the way, as it was packed with customers and quickly moving staff.  It was nearly eight p.m. on a Sunday evening and we were shocked by the large amount of take-out and dine-in customers.

Finally, we received our order and our bill was approximately $37 for Bhindi Masala, “fresh okra cooked with garlic, ginger, cilantro, etc.” Navaratan Korma, “vegetables with nuts in a spiced sauce,” garlic naan, and raita.

I had thought I ordered boneless chunks of lamb tandoor, but believe we received the Seekh Kabab instead, described as “finger rolls of ground lamb, chicken, goat spiced with fresh ginger.”

We also received two small containers of steamed basmati rice.

The okra and Navaratan Korma were packed in quart-sized containers.  India Cafe’s version of bhindi masala was coated in a slightly creamy tomato sauce.  The okra was tender, however I wished it was more plentiful.  The sauce was well-balanced between creamy, acidic, salty, and sweet.

Overall, I enjoyed the creamier variation of this dish but wished the okra-onion balance leaned more in favor of the okra.

My favorite dish of the evening was the Navaratan Korma.  The gravy had an addictive quality and also tasted well-balanced.  Although the gravy wasn’t fiery hot, it was pleasantly spicy in a tummy warming sort of way.  The gravy tasted creamy without feeling overly rich, and the vegetables were tender.  I am guessing India Cafe did not just simmer mixed frozen vegetables into this fantastic gravy, based upon the uneven cuts of carrot and silky potato.  
When I tried the lunch buffet at Sambol earlier this summer, I was disappointed that the dishes seemed to contain the same frozen vegetable mix.  This was not the case. 

The dense finger rolls of ground meat in the Seekh Kabab were heavily spiced, spicy hot, and a little dry.  The meat was also coated in a creamy sauce and tossed with a lot of cooked onions.  A spritz of the lemon went a long way.

The order of garlic naan came with two slices of bread.  The bread was pungently garlicky and perfect for mopping up the delicious sauces, however, the bread was soft and a little soggy, lacking any char.

The raita was as runny as water, salty, and accented by translucent shards of vegetables.

Comparing and contrasting with Surabhi
Since the inception of this blog, I have written about my fondness for Surabhi multiple times (my most recent visit is here).

Overall, I found India Cafe to be a tasty option and was most impressed by the Navaratan Korma.

I still feel that Surabhi offers spicier entrees, however, I did not specifically request extra spicy at India Cafe.  Although our India Cafe tally was slightly less than our typical Surabhi tally, I feel Surabhi offers larger portion sizes and their Thali meal combinations can not be beat (you get lots of rich, blistered naan and many condiments).

India Cafe also offers southern Indian specialties such as dosas and I would be curious to try their Kerala fish.  As we were picking up our food, I noticed the cafe had a small buffet station.

Lazy chapati
Naanless in the morning, I decided to make a quick batch of chapati to eat with the leftovers.  I usually wake up ravenously hungry, ready to consume the previous evening’s leftovers.  The spicier the better.  Jake is rarely hungry for breakfast and is often stunned to find me eating spicy Indian leftovers at 7 a.m. on weekends.

Due to my ravenous morning hunger, I quickly found Aarti Sequeira’s recipe for chapati and cut the recipe in half (in the past, I have used the recipe from Extending the Table, which has been packed into a moving box).

I quickly mixed one cup of whole wheat flour with a pinch of sea salt and half a cup of water.  Then, I kneaded the dough until elastic.  I briefly rested the dough for about 10 minutes and brushed with oil.

Next, I divided into little balls, and rolled into flat rounds on a floured surface.

Lastly, I placed the flattened dough rounds into a grill pan heated to medium high, with some ghee, until bubbly.  As I flipped the chapati, I pressed some course sea salt into the dough.

If you read Aarti’s original recipe, you will notice I took some shortcuts but the finished product was good enough.

Date night: MOA Theater disillusionment and Crave. I’m on Team Ape-Pretzeldog.

Jake and I viewed The Rise of the Planet of the Apes at the VIP theater in the Mall of America.

This was both of our first times attending an “adult” theater where you can consume adult beverages while watching a movie on the big screen.

The VIP theater mostly indistinguishable from any other movie theater except that each seat seemed designed to custom fit the worlds largest man and there were individuals who scurried down the isles serving alcohol.  The tickets were affordable and cost $8 apiece for the 5 p.m. showing while beer was $5/bottle.  Not bad.

As an individual who would never choose to see this move on my own free will, I actually enjoyed Planet of the Apes even though it made me cry twice.  May I be on Team Ape?

On the way to a restroom break, I was busy checking phone messages.  On my way out, I noticed drops of blood.  In absolute horror, I froze, staring at the floor and the sink.  It literally looked like there was a sword fight in the bathroom.  Or that humans had, in fact, been infected with the T-13 virus.

I washed my hands about 10 times, ran out from the restroom, and grilled the nearest theater attendant, exclaiming that there was blood all over the restroom.

The theater attendant’s response was nonchalant as he explained they already knew and were sending staff to clean up the blood bath.  They continued to keep what looked like a crime scene, in use.  Open to the public.

When I asked what happened, the attendant reported someone had a bloody nose.

I would have rather soiled my own pants while attempting to run to a different restroom than walk into such a mess.  This week, I watched clips from TLC’s “Strange Addiction” where one woman was addicted to eating laundry detergent and another addicted to bathing in bleach.  Until this evening, I can’t think of a moment where bathing in bleach or consuming Kaboom crystals sounded more appealing.

For dinner, we ate at Crave.  The only other time I’d been to Crave was during a happy hour which I rather enjoyed.  Part of me was curious to find out of I thought Crave deserved the foodie loathing.

I forgot to grab my camera and so we are stuck with blurry phone pictures.

I kept it simple and ordered a spicy tuna roll, $7.25 and a pickled daikon roll, $4.

I was generally satisfied with the spicy tuna roll, pictured to the left.  I tried an isolated bite of the tuna mixture and it tasted slightly fishy and not all that spicy.  When eaten as a whole, with soy and wasabi, it did not taste fishy.  The tuna was plentiful and its texture was like a pulverized paste.  The spicy tuna roll is $5 during happy hour which is a better value.

The pickled radish roll, pictured above to the right, was simple and decent.  A few pieces of the radish were difficult to chew.

What I did like was the texture and temperature of the sushi rice.  The wasabi was also especially pungent.

Jake ordered the Tuna Tataki appetizer, $13.95, described as “seared sushi grade ahi tuna, orange soy reduction, and togarashi salt, wasabi cream” and mussels steamed in a “ginger and miso broth” with baguette for $12.95.

To the left is the Tuna Tataki.  I found the seared tuna to be fresh and of high quality.  The frizzled, raw carrots were bland and unseasoned.  The cream dollops a top each slice of tuna tasted like unflavored whipped cream.  I did not detect even a wisp of wasabi and felt it tasted too sweet, almost like a dessert whipped cream.  I smeared the tuna slice around in the “orange soy reduction” sauce and found it be watery and bland.

As a beverage, I ordered hot tea which arrived over-steeped and bitter.

Crave mussel rant
I was annoyed by Jake’s mussels.  Although the picture above to the right is nearly invisibly blurry, you will notice that the mussels were completely covered with raw vegetables.

Jake was satisfied with the quality and flavor of the mussels.  He also complimented the three slices of toasted bread.  I did not taste a mussel, but tasted the rest of the dish.  One of the best parts of steamed mussels is the broth.  I was generally OK with the miso mussel broth which was mildly rich and garlicky, and tasted slightly of fish sauce.  However, I was puzzled by the addition of soft tofu cubes and annoyed by the overabundance of raw bean sprouts and julienned pea pods.  Some of the pea pod strips were hard to chew and I wonder if they were not de-stringed properly.  All of the cold, raw vegetables and large chunks of tofu distracted from the comforting experience of eating steaming mussels, dominating the seafood and the broth.  I yearned for Meritage’s Moules et Frites.

After dinner, we felt kind of unfulfilled.  The meal was certainly not terrible, but we felt it was over-priced for what was actually delivered.  As we stood up to leave, we looked at each other with eyes that said “Let’s not come back to Crave. Unless it’s during Happy Hour.”

Pretzel Dog saves the day

Jake and I soothed our confused and still-longing stomachs with Auntie Anne’s Pretzeldogs, 2 for $5.  Salty, sweet, and snappy.  I’ve always been a sucker for fake orange cheese sauce.  The salsa cheese actually contained a slight sensation of heat and the hot dog was firm and of a higher quality than expected.

I was surprised to feel very engaged by The Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  I still feel traumatized by my experience at the MOA Theater so next time, we may try St. Louis Park’s fancy theater.  The dinner menu at Crave seemed generally mediocre and over-priced, however, our server was fantastic.

I have joined both “Team Ape” and “Team Pretzeldog.”  Maybe if they work together, apes and Pretzeldogs will curb the obnoxiously-expanding Crave empire.  

Weekend takeout adventure: Surabhi revisited. Bloomington redeemed.

517 West 98th Street
Bloomington, MN 55420

This week marks the near end to my summer trimester and I madly scramble to complete final papers, projects, and applications.  I long for my short break between the summer and fall trimester, but can’t help but mourn the fact that transition also signifies the ending of a summer I feel I was hardly able to savor or explore.   
This past weekend, Jake initiated a return to Surabhi for takeout.  Our last visit was Jake’s first time trying Indian food and I was thrilled he liked Surabhi enough to return.  At that moment in time, I was still recovering from my Mexican trip to Puebla and Queretero and found Surabhi’s spicy dishes strangely soothed my stomach.  On a different note, nothing especially strange happened to me this week.  Which is. . . strange.  

Naan: Our meals came with several pieces of plain naan and Jake requested an additional side of garlic naan for $2.50 which included two pieces.  I loved the naan’s charred blisters, chewy texture, and slightly oily quality that lent richness unlike the dry version I tried at Sambol’s lunch buffet.  I did not find the garlic naan to be overwhelming pungent.  Who am I kidding, though.  Would I ever consider a food to be overwhelmingly garlicky?  
Samosas:  Fresh in my memory were recollections of Surabhi’s perfectly fried vegetable pakoras that were expertly packed to-go in a way that preserved crispiness.  To try a new item, Jake ordered his first taste of samosas for $3.95.  This order consisted of three large samosas in a paper bag, accompanied by a sweet and tart tamarind dipping sauce.  The samosa wrappers were crispy and chewy and filled with a slightly spicy mix of mashed potatoes and peas.  
 Boti Kabob, “lean cubes of lamb marinated in spices”:

Jake fondly recalled the tandoor lamb from the Tandoor Mix Grill that we ordered at our last visit so he ordered the tandoor lamb, only.
The lamb was chewy but tender, slightly charred, and flavorful with the rich tandoor marinade.  Although I enjoyed the flavorful lamb, I felt it was slightly dry and charred on this visit.  The amount of meat we received was significantly smaller than all of the meats combined in the Mix Grill.  The lamb rested on a large amount of thinly sliced onions and garnished with fresh lemon wedges.  Diagreeing with Scott Conant, I feel that raw onion compliments meat in the most delightful way.    
We ordered this entree with the Thali Dinner for $16.95.
Bhendi Masala: For my entree, I ordered the Bhendi Masala, “okra cooked with onion, ginger & tomato” as a Thali meal for $12.50.  The last time I ate Bhendi Masala was at Bombay 2 Deli which used to be located on Central Ave in Northeast Minneapolis.  The food was so spicy I felt some kind of heartburn, which practically never happens.  May I add that I was too impressed to be mad?  What on earth happened to those wonderful women and their addicting food?    
Surabhi’s version was flavorful, although less spicy than I had hoped.  Next time I will request “extra spicy” and be more careful to stifle any wavering in my voice.  The okra pieces seemed like they had been deep fried which resulted in no slime and a little oiliness.  I remember Bombay 2 Deli’s version had slightly more of a saucy quality.  Every so often, I also crunched on some hard bits that were either okra seeds or spices.  Of all of our meal components, Jake liked this okra dish the best.  I did enjoy the okra, however, I was still reminiscent for the rich, spicy gravy from the Palak Paneer I ordered at the last visit. 
As pictured above, from the top moving clockwise, our Thali meals came with a slightly spicy lentil daal raitha, and Rasam, a “thick spicy tamarind soup.”  Not pictured is a container of Sambhar, a “thick vegetable soup.”  Our favorite accompaniments were the lental daal of which Jake considered his second favorite aspect of this meal and the yogurt raitha.  Unlike other versions of raitha, Surabhi’s version is more liquidy and sweet which actually complimented the food in a compelling sort of way.  
I found the other two soups decent, but not as remarkable or as addicting as the daal and yogurt.  The soups’ textures were thinner and the flavors were slightly spicy.  However, they were tasty enough that I bought ingredients to make chapati so the leftovers wouldn’t go to waste.  As a disclaimer, the Thali meals come with a lot of takeout containers so be prepared for them to take over your fridge.  Chinese takeout has nothing on the Thali meal.    
As dessert, we received a sweet pudding that tasted like mango, studded with bits of fruit cocktail.  It sounds gross but was actually addictive.  It reminds me of the surprisingly delicious mango pudding dessert served at Sambol’s lunch buffet, except thicker.  On our last visit, we received a rice pudding that we fought over.  I don’t usually even like rice pudding.  
Concluding thoughts
I am thrilled that Surabhi’s Thali meals have become incorporated into our takeout rotation.  Sometimes I feel like we live within a dearth of restaurants, except for a few exceptions.  I still maintain that Surabhi has one of the most flavorful and spicy buffets for under $10 and am relieved that it’s in my backyard.  
Next time, I will order “extra spicy” in a confident manner.  The samosas and tamarind sauce were delicious, however I am still reminiscent for the mixed vegetable pakoras.  I will also order an entree with a rich and spicy gravy.  This is not to say that I did not enjoy the okra, but that I am really craving the gravies.  We will be back.
Let me know if you have any suggestions for the SPICIEST Indian food in the Twin Cities.  And I mean Bombay 2 Deli spicy.  

Lastly. . . a carnivorous word from Mitchell and Webb.

Gyropolis: On my stormy relationship with gyros

May 13, 2011
2325 W. 90th Street
Bloomington, MN 55431

I used to hate Gyros and I can thank summer Bible camp for that.

My sordid history regarding gyros
During the majority of my childhood summers, I attended a week-long, Christian Bible camp in Amery, Wisconsin.  As a special programming activity, one evening’s dinner was transformed into a foraging experience.  Our dinner was dissected into separate elements and we had to walk from station to station to accumulate elements of our meal.  We were forced to wander around the camp in search of our main entree at one station, soup at another, and so forth.  At each stop, we earned a stamp on our faux passport.

For my first few years at summer camp, I looked forward to this dining event when it was internationally themed.  The main entree station consisted of gyros filled with slimy, rectangular slices of mystery meat which I happily chased down with a churro.  I found the gyros to be edible and more compelling than normal summer camp options, but never had the desire to seek gyros, until recently.  One year, I was stunned when breakfast meant a single, pop tart-sized puck of ham/cheese/potato/egg on a plate.

As I grew older, I suspected budget cuts when our internationally themed, scavenger-hunt-for-dinner event was replaced by a mere scavenger-hunt-for-dinner.  It was a deflating moment when I discovered that gyros were replaced with hamburgers, rice with tater tots, and churros with those vile, strawberry-flavored ice cream cups attached to small wooden spoons.

Campers wandered around the property and endured long lines at each station, only to collect burgers and tots with a passport.

Flash forward

These days I like gyros.  In fact, I often crave them.  My favorite version is from Gyropolis, located in Bloomington.

Spicy Gyro, $6.35

Jake and I always order spicy gyros.  At Gyropolis, the meat is sliced from a rotisserie and placed in a fresh pita instead of sizzling on a griddle.  Even without griddle-time, the meat has crispy edges and a firm texture.  Next, fresh romaine and crisp slices of green pepper and red onion are carefully added.  Gyropolis avoids the soggy mess that arises from adding shredded iceberg lettuce and mealy tomatoes to freshly griddled gyro meat.  Am I alone in loathing the smell of warm, wilting iceberg lettuce?
A spicy, cucumber sauce lends some refreshing heat.  Some days it’s spicier than others.  This evening, we won the lottery and the sauce was extra spicy.

A gyro close-up

Fiery Pizza, 10″ hand-tossed crust, $7.95
Jake’s favorite item at Gyropolis is this Fiery Pizza.  According to the menu, the pizza can be made on a 6″ pita or a 10″ hand-tossed crust.  The crust is chewy instead of crispy, which doesn’t bother us.  Jake orders this pizza with gyro meat rather than spicy chicken.  In addition to meat, the pizza consists of spicy pizza sauce, onions, green peppers, mozzarella, jalapenos, and oregano.  Personally, I find the pizza sauce to be delicious, on the sweeter side, and lacking heat. However, more heat comes from the jalapenos.

Small Greek salad, $2.45

Gyropolis makes a fresh Greek salad with iceburg and romaine lettuces, black olives, feta cheese, red onions, green peppers, cucumber, tomato and the obligatory pepperocini.  I have yet to find a piece of lettuce with a browned edge and always eat the pepperocini first.

Besides the freshness of the vegetables, I appreciate the light salad dressing.  I am repulsed by ooey-gooey, artificially emulsified Greek dressings that reek of oregano.  This version is light, tasting of no more than oil, vinegar, and a few herbs.

Seasoned Fries, $2.05
If you order a side of french fries, they are always freshly fried.  For a couple dollars you can order a reasonably portion of fries that are sprinkled with a seasoning salt mix containing a red spice that appears to be deceptively spicy.  These fries hit the spot alongside a gyro but aren’t particularly memorable or crave-worthy on their own.

Gyropolis has helped me to re-define gyros.  My only criticism is that, as far as I can tell, you must buy everything a la carte.  So far, I haven’t found a better quality alternative and am happy to pay the slightly higher cost.  If you have tasted a better gyro I would love to learn more about your recommendation.

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