Not once in all my years in Chicago have I heard the words "Bhabi's Kitchen" uttered. Have you? Well, nobody that I've met had ever heard of this just-off-Devon hideaway either, but I have a sneaking suspicion that all of that is about to change, especially since they just expanded from a scant four tables to a bustling side room seating more than triple the original capacity.
I happened upon this feverishly authentic Indian restaurant via one of my favorite ways of finding new places to eat: the Internet. Doing some random google search (what did we ever do without this tool?), I ingested review after raving review, stating that was the best Indian in Chicago; like eating in a real-deal Indian kitchen. Needless to say, that was an understatement.
When I first walked in, I was a little shocked at just how tiny the Bollywood-splashed place really was. Four tables? How could there not be a line out the door every night? In a split second, the shiny-headed owner, Mr. Syed, immediately took me under his protective wing, plopped me down at one of the empty tables and whipped out a menu. Even though I perused the menu with delight, once I told him I was a vegetarian, he had suggestions galore (some of which weren't even on the menu). In the end, I (really, we) decided to rock out a crispy dollar samosa, some broccoli rabe, the creamy eggplant, an order of pizza-like naan, a gigantic pile of fluffy basmati rice and a spicy potato dish that his wife was gonna whip up "special for me." Good Lord at the bounty that arrive a few minutes later.
First came one of the best samosas I've ever tasted, chock full of little chunks of potatoes and served perfectly crisp and chewy. After this delightful surprise (I usually contend that samosas are overrated), big colorful bowls of bright green, pureed broccoli rabe and baby eggplant smothered in a creamy nut and spice sauce hit the table. Both of these were total vegetarian taste sensations; spicy as hell and just complex enough to satiate a picky vegetarian palate that sometimes gets bored senseless with the standard offerings. Perhaps the best part was soaking up all of the juices with a big wedge of naan, which I'd ordered topped with tiny slivers of onion and little bits of jalapeno peppers.
After stuffing myself silly (even the made-from-what's-on-hand potato dish was wonderful), I took Mr. Syed up on his offer to take a little look-see down into the huge tandoor oven in the kitchen. Poking my head down the hatch, I watched as he flipped over several of the mouthwatering naan that were clinging to the side of the round-mouthed oven. He uses it to churn out everything from whole chickens (allegedly, all of the famous chefs in town know about this dish and seek it out weekly) to crispy flatbreads. I'm thinkin' everyone needs one of these babies in their house, yeah? Well, at least I do.
The Final Rave: Even though he's expanded, it's still best to call ahead with a reservation to this super-casual, BYOB hot spot. Apparently, there are many more folks in the know that you can imagine. Oh, the homemade pistachio ice cream is simply irresistible.
Keep It Going:
Read It: The Wooden Spoon
Not only does this charming cooking school offer hands-on Indian cooking classes, it has an upcoming schedule that spans the globe; think Italian, Mexican, Latin and my fave: cake decorating.
Drink It: Vermilion
Get your fill of Indian beers at this wacky Indian/Latin restaurant. Nice as it is, why Indian/Latin? Just such a bizarre (yet delicious) mix.
Eat It: Aria
Another gem that usually gets stellar reviews, this downtown restaurant is supposed to have some of the cities best naan. I don't know, Bhabi's dishes out some killer stuff.
Get Crazy With It: Patel Brothers
If you've never wandered into this Indian superstore, prepare to be blown away by the plethora of snacks, herbs, masala's, and other goodies that you didn't even know existed. Go hungry, as those open bins full of Indian snacks makes for some fun shopping treats.
Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.