Friday, July 2, 2010

BINDI: From South Philly Review:

"Thomas Jefferson was a renaissance man. America’s third president was a lover of fine food and wine. He loved to entertain at the White House and in his dining room in Charlottesville, Va. His table was resplendent with fruits and vegetables from his garden. For Jefferson, meat, fish or poultry served as a condiment during his meals. The stars were fresh in-season produce.

I chatted about Jefferson with my friend Dan over dinner at Bindi because I had never reviewed an Indian restaurant. Besides, I read about the $20 Thali Tuesday dinner and was excited to try it.

Bindi is BYOB. Dan e-mailed me that matching wine with Indian food can be tricky. I agreed. Dan brought a Trimbach Gewurztraminer which pairs well with spicy food.

Our dinner took place on a brutally hot evening. Bindi is a casual eatery where executive chef Marcie Turney, of Valanni and Lolita fame, and chef de cuisine George Sabatino are turning out inexpensive tasty Indian fare. Although daylight streamed through the front windows, it was still a bit dark for me. The noise level was high because the place was almost totally booked.

We sipped Schuylkill punch as our server opened our wine.

“We are here for the special dinner,” Dan said.

Our server explained we get a choice of protein along with eight other fruit, vegetable and grain dishes. Dan and I opted for the pork belly.

Our server placed before us what I can only describe as over-sized Seder plates. During the Passover Seder, a special plate is placed on the table with individual compartments to display symbolic foods.

What followed was a dinner of such unusually tasty proportions I swore I would dine more often in Indian restaurants. But I am not sure they would be as fine as Bindi.

The pork belly was crispy, spiced, cured and glazed served with local strawberry pickle and house-made chicharones. Our server also brought us a basket of Indian-spiced chips with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce.

The chilled, charred asparagus soup with pickled radishes and garam masala sent my taste buds soaring. It was refreshing to sip a cool soup on a hot evening. Swiss chard was a star. It was shredded and topped with toasted almonds, sprouted lentils, grilled oyster mushrooms bathed in a light garlic dressing.

Farm-fresh sugar snap peas and yellow wax beans packed a little kick due to chili peppers and toasted sesame seeds.

As we dined, Dan and I kept our menus close at hand because so many dishes were new to us. Local shell beans were enhanced by a bit of coconut. Favas were used here and they are my favorite bean. Fragrant basmati rice was naturally sweetened by cranberries and topped with mint. This rice dish was about as fine as you can get anywhere.

The dreaded zucchini made an appearance. I did not mind Turney’s version. She used the squash to form a chutney and mixed it with coriander, mint and lime juice. The carrot confit was prepared with carrots from Blue Moon acres. Olive oil, rice wine vinegar and mustard seeds formed a fine balance to off-set the natural sweetness of carrots.

Now for the raita. I love this yogurt-based Indian dip. It can also be used as a marinade. Garlic, red chili oil, mint and cool cucumber were an important part of the mix. I swirled chips into the dip and could not get over the marvelous flavors and textures.

I was clueless about the paratha. It is a hand-rolled bread which was stuffed with pecans and goat cheese and placed on the griddle. The bread was accented by ghee, sea salt and a slightly tart rhubarb chutney.

“I could come here every Tuesday,” I said to Dan. “This food is marvelously fresh, tasty and nutritious.”

Service was first-rate even though Bindi was booked by the time we left.

At the bottom of the menu, “We proudly support local artisan farmers” is printed.

By dining at Bindi, we support these important men and women too. Three tips of the toque to Bindi."

By Phyllis Stein-Novack

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