Sunday, March 2, 2008

Indian Food Dinner at Fire Food and Drink

There is a dearth of good Indian restaurants in Cleveland. I don’t even mean authentic, because that would imply a uniform Indian cuisine. I just mean a restaurant that prepares the ubiquitous Mughlai/ Indo-British regulars well. Some do it okay sometimes; some did it well once upon a time; some have always done it badly. If the attendance for the Fire Indian Food event on Feb 28 was any indication, there is a clearly interest in Indian food in Cleveland. The event was so popular that they closed the restaurant and filled it with people anxious for Indian food. And, I would be surprised if any guests left hungry.

Chef Katz explained that this dinner was conceived through the friendship of his child and that of guest chef Radhika Rajwade. The resulting menu served as a quick and somewhat stereotypical tour of India. That is not to say that the food was bad—quite to the contrary. The chicken curry and tandoori chicken was better than that of any Indian restaurant in Cleveland. The chefs in the kitchen, whose tandoor likely gave birth to the restaurant’s name, clearly understood how to capitalize on the hot spots of its oven to create perfect naan. In addition, the meal featured two goat—not lamb—dishes. I have eaten goat many times, and love it. The recipes that were chosen, “kheema masala: spicy minced goat” and “bhuna gosht: braised goat ”, highlighted the richness of the meat while down playing the gaminess that can be challenging to those whose palette is more comfortable with lamb.

Chef Katz also highlighted his local source for the meat--Goatfeathers Point Farm. Though I have never really spoken to him, Katz has always struck me as a really decent fellow—committed to Shaker Square, to Cleveland, and to ethical food. He was very careful to thank Rajwade and her family for their clear commitment to the evening. He started a round of applause for the farmers (who were also attendees of the dinner). On my way out, I noticed that Katz has been awarded a sustainable seafood award. He was even very affable when I shot his picture as the desserts were being prepared.

In general most of the meal was enjoyable, excluding the Goan fish which didn’t strike me as particularly Goan. There are two Indian cuisines which do fish famously well—the coastal cultures of Bengal and Goa (not to mention many others like the Parsis and the Keralans who have less famous but just as tasty dishes.) Goa, as a tourist hotspot, is the most famous outside India, and its cuisine is influenced by the food of Portugal (their long-time colonial power) and employs vinegar, onions and, outside of Goa proper, coconut in the preparation of fish. (In Bengal, mustard oil is a requisite compliment to fish.) This bit of didactic aside, my point is Rajwade’s choice of “Goan fish” pointed to her interest in giving us the most popular dishes as a means helping the newbie taste a variety of India. It seemed to be a way that Rajwade could bring everyone to the various types on Indian meals that they could have. As such each entree was paired with a compliment of starch or vegetable. The overall effect was, well, a little overwhelming. And, while the food was served family style (a wonderfully Indian touch), it was as if some Indian Grandmother had planned the portions with an eye to fatten her guests up. It also meant that our table wasted quite a lot of food and the next morning, I half-wished that I had brought Tupperware or something. Sadly the excess of food meant that I didn't enjoy the exceptional pistachio ice cream as much as I should have.

In total, the food was tasty, even though I learned that more was just more. It was a great way for someone to learn about Indian food—though I would not say it was a true tasting menu (in which a chef creates a carefully portion guided tour of his/her ideas.) But, this tour of India was well planned in it variety of foods and drinks (including mango lassi, rose sherbat, and Indian beer.)

Apparently, Katz will be pairing with one of his staff members to do a similar evening about Thailand. I would also love for him to do one about North Africa. If I attend again, I shan’t eat for days prior to the festivities. Though it also made me think that Katz/ Rajwade might want to dip into doing a high-end/ middle-end Indian restaurant.


Sarah said...

Wow am I jealous! It sounds like it was quite an evening, great post!

Nancy Heller said...

We so wanted to go to this, but we were still in Florida. Thank you for sharing your photos and giving us a virtual taste of what looked like a fabulous dinner!

APU said...

Namaste from India!

This is the Chef's sister, Aparna, writing in from Mumbai, India. Radhika sent me this link and I have to say- this is a nicely written review!
Glad you enjoyed the dinner- yes as Indians we do have a 'feast now for tomorrow we may diet' mentality to our meal planning. Good home cooked meals mean lavish portions and plenty of complimentary dishes- almost seeking the same kind of comfort as a British fry -up.
Radhika had a blast putting the meal together. It involved several panicked phonecalls to her mum and aunt in india, multiple trips to Indian stores to source the authentic ingredients (one of which was unavailable and thus caused a minor let -down in the Goan Fish curry, in fact.) and over and above all- working in Fire's beautifully appointed kitchen!
I on my part would love to see her do more of this- she already feeds her family well (if a tad excessively) and it would be nice to see this skill turned outwards!
Thanks for the review- I enjoyed reading it and look forward to seeing more!

Aparna Upadhyaya,

maybellesmom said...

Thanks for your comments and compliments.

Nancy, I had wanted to go to the Siam one. My husband and I ate there every week for a couple years.

Aparna, thanks for the long and kind comments. what was the ingredient that she was hoping to use for the goan fish? curry leaves? coconut? asofoetida? and how did you find my post? anyway, it was very flattering and interesting.