Thursday, February 21st, 2013
Anticipation. Sure, it’s supposed to make whatever you’re waiting for even better when you finally get it, or fuel your inevitable disappointment, as the case may be. I didn’t intend to wait this long to dine at Cardamom Hill, Chef Asha Gomez’ brick and mortar restaurant modeled after her exclusive Spice Route Supper Club, especially considering the hype surrounding her Kerala Indian cuisine, including a national write-up in a recent issue of Food and Wine Magazine.
LC and I arrived two days late for our Valentine’s Day dinner seeing as he was deathly ill on the day itself. The door of the small space in a strip shopping center opens by the restaurant’s bar while the main dining room is divided by a central partition. Decor is rather plain but I was there for the food, super-excited to taste what everyone was talking about. We started off with drinks, a specialty cocktail for him, a glass of red wine for me.
Although it is the dish I have been waiting to try since I first read Cardamom Hill’s menu, I was talked out of ordering the duck and plantain croquettes by LC for practical reasons. He was right. I was ordering the duck entree and he wasn’t very hungry, so we would order three other appetizers instead and share the duck.
Among the three small plates we ordered was my old favorite, pork vindaloo. Easily the spiciest of the Indian sauces, one usually finds it dumbed down for us Americans. However, Gomez gives us an authentic fiery version and serves it with a rice-coconut crepe. Although the menu says the meat is a shoulder cut, I could have sworn it was pork belly. Cubes of fat mingled with the tender meat, surprising me with their unappetizing texture. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the deep, spicy flavor.
LC chose the curry chicken pastries, two turnovers filled with fragrant minced curried chicken then baked crisp. Spiced with cumin, corriander, and curry powder, they were satisfying but not particularly noteworthy. We agreed on a third dish, the short rib with sweet potato, mainly because I love sweet potatoes.
Modernizing the idea of the traditional thali, Gomez composes some dishes on small square white plates set on long wooden boards, each displaying a separate ingredient. This is how the short rib was presented, spiced pulled rib meat in one dish, two (yes, only two) slices of cardamom scented sweet potato in the center, and arugula with a punchy citrus vinaigrette in the third dish, providing a wonderful acid contrast to the sweet and spicy flavors.
I was horrified when my crispy duck leg arrived, completely covered in the clove pepper sauce mentioned on the menu. Even worse was that the sauce was room temperature. I wonder if the skin of the duck was crispy before it was drowned in the sauce…it almost made me cry. Another issue was my request to substitute the confit potatoes with sweet potatoes, to which I was told they couldn’t do it. I can’t imagine why not since the potatoes were plated separately and could have easily been switched. A fruit chutney heavy on ginger paired well with the duck which was actually delicious after I got past the sauce.
Despite feeling a little better than on Valentine’s Day, LC didn’t have enough energy for dessert, so I ordered the mango bread pudding to go. It was beautifully presented in a black container and devoured immediately when we got home. Dense and not too sweet, the individually baked pudding was drizzled with a little simple syrup and served with fresh fruit and a mango dipping sauce.
I enjoyed most of the dishes at Cardamom Hill but left wondering what all the hoopla was about. Should we have tried the Kerala fried chicken that is a specialty there? I missed the traditional trappings of Indian food like naan with raita, authentic or not.
1700 Northside Drive 404-549-7012