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Tippling at Bhabi's Kitchen

Going Greek didn't exactly happen as planned.
Tuesday Mar 22, 2005.     By Zinny Fandel
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

I was almost impressed by myself. Generally falling short of "gifted" in the cooking department, I had, sans recipe, planned a tilapia with lemon and capers dinner, sided with a tomato and cucumber tahini salad and potatoes (the Greek inspiration, surely, would come about in the midst of cooking). Full of pride at my lack of panic, I boldly strode into Binny's (no, I don't need any help, thank you very much) and grabbed the first bottle of Greek Viognier I saw, a 2002 Skouras Viognier from the Larsinos Estate in the Peloponnese region, priced at $7.99. I'd never tried Greek wine, and knew that Viognier was generally a wise accompaniment to the pesky caper.

But even the best laid plans...Steamer and I were invited to an Indian place on Oakley, and the promise of good company, a BYOB policy and a never-before-tasted version of chicken tikka severely outweighed the potential accolades I'd draw from Steamer if all went perfectly ("fish" and "dry" tend to fall in every sentence regarding Zinny's seafood attempts).

I grabbed the bottle and we headed to Bhabi's Kitchen, a small storefront on Oakley (site of the infamous Hema's, though Bhabi's is on the south side of Devon). Oh, Indian jewel! Cleverly hiding its complex tastes behind a simple interior, you'll find a handful of nondescript tables, a TV broadcasting a mix of news and Bollywood, and the random occurrence of red streamers taped against the walls. It's the sort of place you'd enter and think "A ha! They want you to do take-out."

Not the case. The dine-in experience is what it's all about, thanks to the chatty-Kathy owner, Mr. Syed. Friendly to the max (he put his business card with both our check and to-go order), he seems to relish a more seafaring approach to dining, navigating his patrons through the sizeable menu while reminding you about the turkeys he marinates at Thanksgiving for days on end.

He made it a special point to mention which dishes you won't find at any other Devon establishment, specifically Karela Gosht (bitter melon cooked with lamb) and Sarsoo Ka Saag (broccoli rabe cooked with herbs and spices). Before anything was said, however, wine glasses and a corkscrew were whisked to our table, with an offer to refrigerate our bottle.

We filled our glasses (first sip, zingy) and started with a basket of freshly made vegetable samosas that illustrated just how good fried food can be when it's not sopping with oil. In addition to the bitter melon lamb (truly a winner), we tried Daal Palak (spinach cooked with roasted lentils; forget mac and cheese: This is comfort food) and the always-telling chicken tikka (delicious, and made with a blend of spices unlike any previously tasted; also noticeably absent was the habitual neon pink coloring). The piece de resistance here is the bread, with 20 varieties to choose from. We later commended ourselves for our wise picks of onion, garlic and green pepper naan; Gobi Paratha (thin layered fried bread with cauliflower filling); and Pistachio Paratha.

But not to stray too far from the BYOB point: the Viognier. The aforementioned zingy sip was a good one, and then I forgot about it...fortunately. I always assume that red needs to breathe, and white needs to be downed. In this case, the 10 lazy minutes between sips revealed a new beast, one that was much more buttery and soft. The acidic tang mellowed quickly. Still, I think that had I planned on going the Indian route, I would have taken a red, something in the Zinfandel or Syrah family. But if I was heading to a Greek BYOB spot (and to my knowledge there's only one in Chicago: Greek Corner on Damen), this would be a solid and inexpensive warm weather pick.

Zinny Fandel's tales of living the BYOB life are intended to be attempted at home and in the community, preferably at BYOB restaurants.


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