Sherman's Food Adventures: Vij's

Vij's

This revisit to Vij's has been a long time coming.  Every year, I keep making plans to go and for some reason or another, it never materializes.  This has been further exacerbated by the fact Viv has never been there.  Yes, as unbelievable as it sounds, she has never eaten at Vij's.  So when Costanza and Elaine asked where she wanted to go for her birthday dinner, it was pretty much the perfect time to go.  Of course we arrived before opening to stand in the iconic lineup to snag a table.  Even though it was in the dead of Winter (not too cold though), it spilled out onto the sidewalk.

As we were seated, the usual complimentary appies were offered including pakoras and lentil chaat.  Not to worry, we did order some smaller plates of our own to share including the fantastic Eggplant in thick yogurt curry.  What really made the dish was the fried onions on top as they not only added a crunch, the aromatics and sweetness combined with the nutty batter added layers of flavour.  The eggplant itself was tender while retaining a bite.  It was bathed in a rich curry that was tangy with a background spice.  Equally tasty was the Jackfruit in black cardamom and cumin curry.  Each nugget of jackfruit was tender and juicy.  Again, there was a balancing amount of tanginess (from the pickled ginger especially) to go with the slight spice and earthy notes from the cumin.

Another classic dish was the Garam Masala Portobello Mushrooms in porcini cream curry.  It was rich and smooth with little pops of lentils and rice.  Naturally, it was woodsy and aromatic while deceptively spicy.  Being creamy, the spice didn't hit until midway through each bite which helped create waves of flavour.  This would be repeated again and again as all the dishes were both subtle and impactful at the same time.  Our last small dish was the Rabbit with onion-jalapeno-ginger sauteed in raw sugar.  Naturally lean, the rabbit was still tender and moist.  Again, there was enough tanginess to offset the sweetness and spice.  Loved the sharp, almost "sundried tomato-like" onion jalapeno ginger which created pops of sweet tanginess.

Onto the mains, it was a foregone conclusion that we would order the Wine-Marinated Lamb Popsicles in fenugreek cream.  This iconic dish has been copied by others but never executed like the original.  Only lightly gamy, the lamb was tender and cooked perfectly (with some pink).  Beyond the caramelization on the outside, the subtle wine notes were in the background as the cream took centre stage.  It was aromatic, sweet and lightly earthy.  As much as I sopped as much on the lamb as possible, the cream was subtle enough to let the lamb shine on its own.  Interestingly, I was rather fond of the Coconut Curried Vegetables on lentil & brown rice pilaf even though there was no meat.  I found the potatoes and cauliflower to have enough meatiness to stand up to the mild aromatic (due to the coconut) curry.

Although I really enjoyed the texture of the Duck Koftes in creamy tomato & kale curry, this was one dish that was a bit out-of-balance.  The koftes were too salty in our opinion which helped obscure the creamy tomato curry.  Fortunately, the spice level was a bit higher in this dish which meant it somewhat offset the saltiness of the duck.  Texturally, they were meaty while being tender.  Lastly, we had the Braised Shortribs in fennel & mustard seed curry which was also a well-executed dish.  The shortribs themselves were fork tender with enough fatiness so that the meat was also buttery and soft.  I found the curry rather mild with only a touch of licorice essence.  Loved the kale as it was lightly blanched where it still had a bright crunch.

A long time ago, I criticized the Naan that came with our meal was hard, thick and dense.  Well, that is clearly not the case now as it was thin, crispy in parts and soft and elastic in others.  Beautiful charring with an appealingly nuttiness.   This, along with the rice was refillable upon request.  We really didn't need to do that since we had more than enough food that was rich, full-bodied and complex.  Nice to see that Vij's still has that going for them after all these years.  The time until my next visit won't be as long...

The Good:
- Full-bodied with complex flavours
- Something a bit different than usual Indian restaurants
- On point service

The Bad:
- Can be rather heavy, order accordingly (which we didn't)
- Although there are limited reservations available now, you generally still have to lineup

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