From New Delhi to New Brighton
Chutney Indian Bistro
2321 Palmer Drive, New Brighton 633-6224
THE GOOD NEWS for folks who live a bit north of the cities is that they no longer have to leave their neighborhood to find cuisine that's more exotic than, say, spaghetti and meatballs. The good news for the rest of us is that New Brighton isn't as far away from the metro area as it sounds (about 15 minutes from downtown Minneapolis). Not yet six months old, Chutney offers one of the most extensive Indian menus in these parts, featuring dishes from the north, south, east, and west.
The two main chefs, one from southern and one from northern India, apparently indulge a healthy spirit of competition when it comes to cooking. When I asked what spices were used in a particular dish, a terrified look crossed our waitress's face. "I don't know. They sort of like to keep their recipes secret back there, even between themselves. When I first started working here, I once made the mistake of asking," she said, her voice trailing off. No matter; surely our waitress's enthusiasm for telling us about other things in great detail made up for this one enigmatic reply. Unprovoked, she shared bits about her former employment history, her gusto for learning new Indian words, and her pregnancy, all alongside plenty of motherly advice for how to eat which dish when. I sometimes had the frightening thought that she'd take one of us on each knee and spoonfeed us, but this never came to pass.
Chutney isn't a place where you'll be rushed through a meal. Some items on the menu, such as the dosas--an Indian pancake made from ground rice and lentils--take up to 45 minutes to make. (That's because the batter is prepared fresh for every order, and because the delicate texture of the dosas sometimes makes it necessary to take several passes before a finished version can be served up.) Forty-five minutes is just the perfect amount of time to sip a beer (the wine menu features a small selection of imported bottled beer from India, England, Ireland, and Germany, in addition to wines from California, Chile, and France, featured top-shelf liquor, and a couple of cigars, at modest prices) and work your way through an appetizer.
Spinach pakoras ($3.50) are lovely, with almost a filigree texture, crispy globes of fresh spinach, potatoes, and onions battered and fried lightly. The chicken soup ($2.75) was also good, though served a bit tepid, rich with spices and plenty of chicken and spinach. The dosas, a southern Indian specialty ($8.95), was worth the wait, stuffed with bits of tandoori-baked chicken, potatoes, and peas, and accompanied by an immense side of coconut chutney and sambhar, a warmly spiced gumbo covered with fresh cilantro. And there's wondrous bread on the side: The naan selections, made from white flour and baked in Chutney's clay ovens, are all delightful, especially the garlic version ($1.95), with its buttery, puffy texture and abundance of flavor.
It's nice to find a place where the range of entrées is also represented by their price. On one end of the scale, for $5.95, diners can gorge themselves on a delicious dal makkhani, a thick dish of butter lentils topped with coriander and served with basmati rice. If your wallet feels a bit thick, the menu ranges up to the goa machhi ($14.95), a West Indian specialty made with marinated goan fish and coconut, tomato, and onion. The selection (coconut, mango, tamarind, onion, mint, and chili) of homemade chutneys does the restaurant proud, and are free with your entrée.
It's the kind of place one can visit many times without running out of pleasant surprises. From salmon vindaloo ($14.95) to stir-fried okra ($7.95), I challenge you to find something that isn't beyond reproach. And of course, as our waitress reminded us about 15 times, you'll want to save room for dessert, all made on the premises. There's the traditional kheer (rice pudding), custard with nuts, homemade kulfi (ice cream), mango kulfi, ras malai (Indian cheese cake topped with rose water and nuts), and lush gulab jamun--a milky pastry soaked in honey and rose water--all for $2.50 a pop.
Stuck in a strip mall between a hardware store and a barber shop, Chutney's might not be the most obvious place to find an authentic, top-notch Indian bistro; the view out onto the parking lot is a bit bleak. But that's no crime--parking lots are what one seems to see out most windows now anyway.
IMPRESS YOURSELF: If you're feeling rusty on your chops, slices, and dices, inquire at Cooks of Crocus Hill for remedies. Cooks (877 Grand Ave., St. Paul) offers plenty of classes taught by a wide range of seasoned instructors, including Andrew Zimmern, chef at Café Un Deux Trois, Cordon Bleu graduate Yvonne Moody, and L'Academie de Cuisine graduate Deidre Schipani. Upcoming classes include: Chilies--In Pursuit of Flavor; Jam Session; Pies and Tarts Workshop; and an Ice Cream Social for Kids where pupils learn such skills as making their own ice cream, chocolate sauces, and ice cream sandwiches. Sure beats sitting around the pool and reading Foucault. Call 228-1333 to register/order a class schedule. To get you thinking in the right direction, Cooks presents this recipe for potato salad, everyone's favorite summer treat (well, some people's favorite summer treat):
Cooks' Roasted Potato Salad
* 3 lbs. small-medium
* 1-2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
* coarse sea or kosher salt
* 1 lb. feta cheese
* 2-3 tbsp. small capers
* 1/2 lb. cured olives, pitted
* 1/2 lb. roasted red bell peppers
* 1 bunch fresh basil
* 1 bunch Italian parsley
* 2-3 cloves garlic
* 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
* 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
* pinch of red pepper flakes
* coarse sea or kosher salt
Preheat oven to 375. Scrub potatoes and parboil in a large pot of salted boiling water. Drain, cool, and cut into quarters. Toss with 1-2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil and coarse salt. Spread potatoes evenly on a sided sheet or roasting pan, and roast in preheated (375) oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Turn potatoes at least once during the roasting to ensure even browning.
While the potatoes are roasting, crumble the feta cheese and set aside. Pit the olives with a pitter, or by flattening with the broad side of a chef's knife. Cut olives in two and set aside. Dice the roasted peppers into small pieces and set aside.
To make the basil-parsley vinaigrette, remove the leaves from the herb stems (save stems for use in stock, or discard) and mince finely. Place red wine vinegar in bowl, and slowly whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil. Add minced herbs and garlic, and pinch of red pepper flakes.
Place warm roasted potatoes in a large bowl, and toss with the crumbled cheese, capers, olives, and diced peppers. (If done while the potatoes are still warm, the salad will be more flavorful.) Toss with vinaigrette, taste for seasoning, and adjust. It may not be necessary to add salt depending on the saltiness of the feta and the olives. (This salad can be made several hours or a day in advance. Serve at room, or outside temperature.) Serves 6-8.
FLAVONOID-SHMAVONOID: What the heck are flavonoids? Do I like the taste of soy products? Should I? Can I buy antioxidants in pill form? Don't ask me. Maybe you can tell me after you read the new book by nutrition expert Ed Blonz, Your Personal Nutritionist: Antioxidant Counter (Signet; $3.99 paperback) that's slotted to hit bookstores next week. Like a joyless Sherlock Holmes (and could you blame him for being joyless with a name like Blonz?), the author promises to take the mystery out of words like beta carotene and free radicals while guiding you to foods to strengthen your immune system. Snacks aren't snacks anymore; in the strong hands of Dr. Blonz, snacks are potential storehouses of antioxidant power. Whether you are curious about the nutritional content of a cup of Kellogg's Corn Flakes (110 cal., 0 g fat, 749 IU vitamin A, 15 mg vitamin C) or, well, not curious, the book promises to be a good resource guide for integrating antioxidants into your daily meals. Onward to battle ye go.
BARS TO MEN: Aside from being a friendly place to watch the Kentucky Derby with the oldtimers and drink a beer with coeds, Blondie's on the Avenue (629 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls.; 333-0105) is now a place to take a friend to lunch. Sporting a new patio and kitchen, Blondie's is proud to offer a full menu that includes sandwiches, burgers, homemade meatloaf and garlic mashed potatoes, and chicken alfredo, among other treats. Brunch is my bet for a good time, served weekends and holidays 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and featuring biscuits smothered with honey butter, pancakes, and build-your-own omelets.
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