I love Indian food.
A lot. I tend to focus on the vegetarian side of it, but always top of the list when eating out choices spring up. During our time in India we lived on Thali, literally 'plate': big silver platters, divided into sections, soon filled with heaping helpings of whatever vegetarian wonders Amma has cooking in her kitchen that day. And don't finish everything on your gleaming platter, because Babuji will promptly and lovingly return to replenish your plate! North Americans warned us of the spice and the heat of the food; this, however never came to pass. That is why I was curious to sample Harsh Chawla and Derek Valleau's new endeavor Ji, (the former Concession Road) a casual take on traditional Indian food with a gastropub twist. And as Harsh proudly proclaims 'comfort food with Canadian style" a perfect fit for the constantly evolving neighbourhood that is St. Clair West. So Canadian pub food meets Indian fusion. Ok. I get it. I think.
A group of select Toronto foodies and Instagrammers sat down to sample this refreshing concept at a special media tasting of Chef Kirti Singh's menu, served as sharing plates and family style. Amma and Babuji would be proud.
We were all pretty unanimous with the results: the Tamarind Margarita with tequila, triple sec, and orange was a hit with my fellow tasters, but I opted for a Nickle Brook American Pale Ale Tall Boy that seemed the logical choice to counter the slight heat the dishes were dishing out. Ji offers an extensive selection of craft beers such as Black Oak, Bellwoods Brewery, and Flying Monkeys, and several Tall Boys to slake your thirst. Hey, we are enjoying a gastropub experience after all. Wine and Indian-themed cocktails round out their beverage choices.
The Brisket Poutine was the first thing I grabbed: gently spiced brisket curry and creamy paneer ladled onto masala-scented fries. Heaven in a bowl. The only thing missing was perhaps some cheddar curds to add some stringy Canadiana to the experience. Ok. The Naanchos were the second hit. House-made tiny naans flash-fried then adorned with lamb keema, kachumber (an Indian salsa, I had to ask), touches of traditional avocado, tomatoes, and onion, then a sprinkling of cheddar, and a splash of cooling raita. I stole two whole ones.
The ultimate favourite of the evening was Chef Singh's Macaroni Makhani. Wiggly tubes of Cavatappi corkscrew pasta lovingly tossed and baked in a butter chicken, tomato cheese sauce. Dear Lord. Mac n Cheese. The ultimate comfort food. I have tasted many soggy attempts (my own included) to upscale this classic comfort food, but none have come close to this bit of buttery heaven. Some ordered seconds, others, thirds. We also enjoyed brimming bowls of Ceasar Salad with an Indian twist: roasted chick peas, smoky coconut 'bacon bits' tossed in a vegan cashew dressing. Sides of a crisp and tangy Indian slaw were on hand to counter the just noticeable heat of the food.
Chawla and Valleau obviously understand the ever-evolving taste and temperament of the St. Clair West demographic. They should: they are the boys behind Pukka Restaurant a few doors down from Ji. My recommendation? Gather a group or your family and book a table and make your Amma and Babuji proud.