Taste Grenade On a Plate: An Imlee Indian Bistro Dining Experience
|By Ben Guzman, of BenGuzmanPhoto.com|
|A tasty tangle of spiced goodness|
From the doorway a three-foot-tall metal goddess presents a platter of dried herbs and flowers to mildly scent the entrance. Your eyes sweep upwards to the brick red draped ceiling, and on all sides you see tasteful works of art (for sale by the artists) adorning the warm mustard-colored walls.
If you look closely, the blurs casting quick shadows on the tables and making the candles flicker are actually the waiters, zipping by at road-runner speeds. We had the honor of being served by the knowledgeable and extremely personable Paul Murphy, who guided us through the menu and made sure to ask the most pertinent question -- which heat/spice index were we most comfortable with? He, too, disappeared in a flash after we placed our orders, but we realized throughout the night that he, like every other waiter, would return just as quickly to attend to each guest, if ever the need should arise.
Every table starts off with a paper thin papadum (thin cracker) speckled with lentil seeds and served with a triad of chutneys: tomato and onion, cilantro and mint and a sweet tamarind sauce (Imlee actually means "Tamarind" in Hindi). Our drink recommendation has got to be the freshly squeezed mint lemonade ($4). It's bright, sweet, tart, and balanced. This drink is a must try, but we'd also recommend the fresh Mango Lassi (made from "Alphonso" mangoes and homemade yogurt, also $4).
We were lucky enough to get a peek into the hectic kitchen and have a more active role in watching our orders come to fruition. Young, calm and amiable amongst the kitchen frenzy was Chef Shreyas Jagtap. Hailing from Mumbai, India, Chef Jagtap studied in Bangol and brings to Imlee his rich culture and traditional dishes. We danced around the kitchen to avoid colliding with the rush of runners and dashed back out to our seats to be reunited with our mouth-watering tray of dishes.
Removing our onyx napkins from their burnished gold rings we started on our appetizer of Shrimp Kashmiri ($13). It was a tangle of caramelized onions and peppers with Black Tiger shrimp peeking through here and there. There was a balance to the flavors of the sweet vegetables and the spiced shrimp, a harmonious union when taken in a big forkful. Our suggestion is to take those piping hot lemon slices and rain down warm juice over it all to bring out their flavors even more.
By 8 pm, the small place was packed, the tables pushed close together. No one seemed bothered. In fact, it fostered a sense of camaraderie; after all, we were all embarking on this flavor adventure together, whether we were ordering similar dishes or not
We started with the classic and most popular, Lamb Vindaloo, ($19). The word Vindaloo means a highly spiced Indian curry made with meat or fish. The first thing you taste is the acidic sharpness from the red wine vinegar quickly mellowed by the all the crushed seasonings (ginger, cumin, coriander, cardamon, mustard and fenugreek). The lamb was melt-in-your-mouth tender and was moist beyond belief with the help of the tomato and dried chilli sauce it's served in.
For those craving pollo done a whole new way, we suggest the Chicken Madras ($17). Traditional flavorings similar to the Lamb Vindaloo are used, but the strong flavor of curry stands out a lot more here (due to the addition of fresh curry leaves). There is a nice kick from the black mustard seeds which adds pungency to the dark tumeric-dyed spiced sauce. Every mouthful delivers a tender bite of mild flavored chicken followed by the warm resonance of the curry sauce to provide all necessary flavor. Both the Lamb Vindaloo and Chicken Madras come with a side of aromatic rice scented with cinnamon sticks and is fluffy and speckled with herbage.
Trust us, with the cinnamon scented rice, selected curry dish, and a side of garlic and cilantro nan ($3.75), you will barely find room for dessert. Then again, who can say no to a fanciful Indian classic of Gulab Jamun, $6, (gulab means rose, and jamun means fruit). This is a simple and elegant dish made of milk flour cardamon donuts sitting in a delicate pool of rose flavored simple syrup. It's served rather warm, all the better for those tiny pillows to soak up more syrup. The little mounds are each topped with a toasted almond. The consistency of the donut is reminiscent of Japanese Mochi, in its dense yet springy texture. We had to stop ourselves from tipping the bowl back and dripping every last drop of that rose syrup into our mouths it was so good.
While the dessert may be seen as bite size, one fellow diner told us, "[Americanized] desserts are seen as that last chance to gorge yourself," and to some degree we would have to agree. This Gulab Jamun was rightfully a conclusion to a meal, and not an entire meal in itself. It sealed off our taste buds with its delicate sweetness and completed the journey on the taste bud pin ball game we played that evening.
In Miami, it's commonplace to happen upon Bistros that boast authenticity yet deliver disappointing failure instead, like a certain unnamed French Bistro we've gone to with only a Spanish speaking attendant. At Imlee, the authenticity courses all the way through, from the traditionalist menu items to the authentic genuineness of the waiters and the Chef. Imlee knows how to stand up and deliver, and that's just the kind of place we love introducing you too.
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