Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Meal Fit For an Indian King

Wow! This may not be my most articulate entry because the meal I'm going to describe left me, at times, speechless and an unique blend of spices and flavors are what made the meal so great. Upon entering Moti Mahal, my mom, a friend and I were aware of the ambiance and atmosphere instantly. Our table in the downstairs seating area was surrounded by a richly upholstered curving couch. The real leather-bound menu is set-up more like a narrative than a list of dishes. The first page includes a welcome from the chef explaining that the menu is based on his personal pilgrimage on the Great Trunk Road through India, the history of the Great Trunk Road, and his family's love of cooking. He explains the menu's attempts to "mingle the regal with the rustic" in order to convey "the explosion of colour and the variety of flavour that make Indian cuisine a canvas of myriad maestros." Understand the wow factor yet? The next page consisted of an old map of India with the GT road drawn on as well as region names. Then began the pages of food choices, which were also told in a personal and narrative fashion. Each item had three parts to it: the Indian dish name, a description of the dish, and a few sentences explaining where the dish is from, it's cultural significance in that region, and when it is typically consumed. For example, I learned that torai aur wadi, lentil dumplings, are typically served as part of a vegetarian Sunday brunch. Opposite each page of food choices was a vibrantly colorful photograph taken somewhere along the Great Trunk road.

The decisions were difficult to make but after finally ordering, we were delivered the house salad. This salad was no iceberg lettuce from a bag. Served on a cutting board were two fresh plump tomatoes, a mini cucumber, crunchy fresh radishes, radish sprouts, a red onion, and a pepper that we were to cut and mix as we pleased. Accompanying the salad was a small jar of mustard oil, a mortar of pepper, cumin and other spices, and a mortar of large pieces of sea salt and spices. They was undoubtedly the most delicious and incredible spices I've ever had, probably the best salad I've had the pleasure of eating and potentially one of the best dishes. That's how out of this world the spices were!

Fresh do-it-yourself salad

For the meal, we ordered several dishes to share. To begin with, we devoured Torai Aur Wadi, a dish originally from Punjab containing gourd and lentil dumplings simmered with a tomatoey yougurtey goodness of a sauce. The dumplings are served cold which I feel intensifies all the seasonings and flavors. The dumpling itself had a pleasant crunch to it, the filling had a nice texture and the sauce was smooth and creamy: the dish was texturally awesome! Our other starter was tandor "glazed" paneer, Malai Saunfia Paneer. The dish, inspired by the chef's great grandmother, left me speechless with its intoxicatingly complex flavor. For one of our main courses we enjoyed the Gosht Biriyani: a delicious blend of lamb, saffron, cardamon. The biriyani had a real depth to the flavor and each bite contained so many different levels of taste. We also had skewers of chicken tikka, Murghi Nazakat, that contained three pieces of chicken each flavored a different way. The first, my favorite, was cooked with a mint and basil mixture that gave the chicken a very fresh flavor. The second was prepared with poppy seeds and Indian chili, while the third had a simple seasoning of pepper and dill. For our vegetable, we chose the Lehsooni Saag. The blend of spinach, kale, garlic and onions was perfect! It was creamy but not too heavy. One could clearly still taste the spinach and certain pieces were left crunchy. The saag was full of bitter green flavors but maintained a subtle sweetness. To accompany the meal, we ordered tokri, the chef's choice of breads. Ours included a partha and stuffed bread.

My favorite thing in Indian restaurants is raita and I order it everywhere as a sort of staple to test a restaurant by, plus I just love the stuff. The raita at Moti Mahal definitely lived up to my expectations. It was thick with the consistency of yogurt (it is generally more of a soup consistency in the states) and full of spices and seasonings. There were also large pieces of cucumber and lots of cumin, one of my favorite spices.

My dinner at Moti Mahal was hands down one of the best meals I've ever had and without a doubt the most unique and flavorful. The rich range of spices, sauces, textures, colors, flavors, and layers of taste was remarkable and made to a dining experience I will not soon forget.
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