Calgary Hot Plate Restaurant – Calgary, AB


Calgary Hot Plate Restaurant
714-5075 Falconridge Blvd NE
Calgary, AB
(403) 590-1244

“Kebab and naan,” he says, “that’s all I ever get”.

Just that alone got me to agree to having a quick dinner at this little place in the heart of Calgary’s East Indian community.  Coming in from the bristling December winter cold, the aromas alone were a much needed welcome.  Order at the counter, scan the specials board along with the regular menu sheet.  Simple process and setup.  Sit down and wait…

Out comes the warm square bowl of Chicken Qorma – with some good sized chunks of breast meat braised slowly in a combination of spices to create a velvety yogurt curry.  A definitive spicy kick to this mixture, instantaneously you feel the heat rip across your tongue along with the intoxicating flavors.  The accompanying huge plate-sized rounds of freshly made naan at first seem like a little much, but soon you’re ripping them apart and wondering if you might run out.

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Naanbites – New Westminster, BC


Naanbites
805 Boyd Street
New Westminster, BC
(604) 527-9997

As might be the case with many people raised in North America, one of my first forays as a child with Indian cuisine was through one of my school friends who came from a family with heritage from that part of the world.  I remember to this day on his eight birthday, being invited over to his home and being exposed to an array of brightly colored and incredibly spicy food that I’d never seen nor tasted before in my young life.  I think the few of us who were invited over all experienced the same shock at it all, that is until his mother remedied that by bringing out something from the kitchen that was milder tasting and had an ingredient that all kids love – chicken.

And so butter chicken will be and probably will remain a lasting dish when it comes to Indian food.  And despite its rather stereotypical image as a “safe” choice among the amazing variety you get in dining out in Indian restaurants, I see it chosen all too often.  And I’m guilt at times.  But more so when its at a lower end establishment, cause I know they can’t seriously mess this up.  Case in point, this little place I came across in Queensborough, called Naanbites.  Based on the name alone, I thought it might be some kind of place just making some creative/fusion bite sized snacks featuring naan bread.  Alas, I was wrong.

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Desi Dosa Madras – Surrey-Delta, BC


Desi Dosa House
8859 120th Street
Delta, BC
(604) 591-1591

I have recently committed to exploring Surrey to mine it of all its gastronomic goodness. To me, this is frontier territory. The distance from my home and my reluctance to drive on the highway have always been blockers to my exploration of this sprawling city. Surrey, of course, is the center of the Indian community here in the Metro Vancouver area. And like Richmond is to Chinese food, Surrey is dotted with true Indian gems. One such place is Desi Dosa Madras on the same strip mall as the more well known (and decidedly mediocre Desi Junction).

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Karma – London, UK


Karma
44 Blythe Road
London, UK
(020) 7602 9333
Open 7 days a week
Lunch: noon to 2:30pm / Dinner: 5:30pm to 11:30pm

What Comes Around, Goes Around.  Karma.

How fitting that a fine dining, Indian restaurant entrench itself in the posh neighborhood of West Kensington in London and more importantly, in the home country of the former colonizer of the ancient lands known as Mother India.  Striking out from the nearby buildings with its bold dark colored facade that stretches around a strip on Blythe Road, even the entrance to this lauded restaurant exudes a confident position entrenched right on the street corner.  My how times have changed.

For its hard not to notice the incredible influx of India cuisine and cooking in many aspects of UK life.  From fast food stands, hole-in-the-wall eateries all the way up to white table cloth establishments such as this place, the vast flavors, textures and rich aromas of Indian food has clearly been accepted by the locals and is now considered one of its appeals.  I’m sure you’ve all heard how much good Indian you can get in London nowadays.  Some even go as far as to say the best you can find outside of India.

Well, I had to discover this for myself…

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Handi Cuisine of India – Vancouver, BC


Handi Cuisine of India
4432 Dunbar Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 738 3186

Dining solo has been a topic that’s come up from time to time in posts as well as in various comments.  Lately, when I’ve had to eat alone, I’ve tended to go the take away route.  Perhaps I’m being influenced by those who cringe at the thought of eating on their own, whereas in the past I had not been so self-conscious…

Handi Cuisine of India situated in the Dunbar neighbourhood (with another location in West Van) is a place I’d driven past many times over the years but had not yet gone inside to order.  It seemingly has a strong local following and reputed solid service, so my expectations were good.  Recently, I was finally able to find out for myself by dialing ahead and placing an order for pickup.

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Café Mumbai – Vancouver, BC


Café Mumbai
2893 West Broadway (@ Bayswater Street)
Vancouver, BC
(604) 737 2500

In my past travels through India, I have never been able to make it to the west coast mega-city of Mubami (ex-Bombay) much to my dismay. Though I am aware that it is the centre of the country’s business and entertainment institutions, and the metropolis attracts people from all over India to work and live.

Café Mumbai seemingly picked up on this, and claimed to cover the diverse range of cooking and styles of cuisine of the nation.  In an almost-direct rebuttal to the Indian-influenced creations at the city’s best known “Indian” restaurant Vij’s, Café Mumbai states they focus on tradition and there is “no confusion by fusion”.

To me, the dine-in menu seemed to be represented more by staples from the north such as samosas and tandoori, with a few smatterings of those from the south such as pakoras.  With owners originally from the western state of Gujarat, the menu also featured a good number of vegetarian choices.  Though not photographed, the Daal Makhni (black lentils cooked with onions and tomatoes) was unfortunately bland in flavour and disappointing.

Lacking a full out buffet as it common at many Indian restaurants in town, for lunch there are some set specials, including the pictured above non-veg mini meal that included two pieces of tandoori chicken, a choice of lamb curry or butter chicken, the day’s vegetable, rice and naan.  It was just fine, not outstanding nor horribly bad, and portion-wise good for a solo diner.  The butter chicken was a touch on the tart side, so for those who like it sweeter, keep this in mind.

Though in a high pedestrian traffic stretch of West Broadway, it seems Café Mumbai suffers from poor curb appeal.  This visit was on a Saturday lunch, and no other customers were there besides our table, though I could see through the front windows many people passing by and some stopping at the dark , heavy door but not entering.  From the outside looking in, the contrast from the brightness outside to the darkness indoors was striking, and perhaps adding to the lack of enticement to come in.

If it were me, I’d open up those windows and the door to allow more flow and air inside.  As well, if I were the lone manager/server who was there that day, I’d get rid of the spread out newspaper and not sit there at the front table while your diners are eating, as it didn’t seem that professional to me – after all this is a place of business and not your living room.

Cafe Mumbai on Urbanspoon

Pita Star and The Curry and Kebab Grill – Vancouver, BC


Pita Star
146 East 3rd Ave
Vancouver, BC
Tel: 604-874-1524

Pita Star on Urbanspoon

I love getting tips about great places to eat…especially holes-in-the-wall. So when a friend called me the other day and said that he had a tip about a new Indian place from a reliable source, we jumped at the chance to try it out. The tip came from a friend of Indian descent, so this place must be solid…or so we thought. As it turns out, it was a food counter that is being run within Pita Star, a place I used to frequent when they served some of the best falafels in the city.

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Pita Star is a storefront for a small-sized family run pita baking operation. You can get their bread at various grocery stores and supermarkets around town. I have purchased pita and Falafel sandwiches from here on in the past (I then make another stop at Swiss Bakery which is right across the street). I hadn’t been here in a while because they closed their storefront and focused on their wholesale business. It looks like that has changed.

A secondary operation called The Curry and Kebab Grill has taken over the food bar in front. (They also sell frozen Indian meals to go…which is interesting). We had a quick read of the chalkboard menu suspended over the counter. They have Curry and Rice specials for $5 and an assortment of Indian dishes.

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We ordered a Butter Chicken and their Platter Combo 1. The Butter Chicken was…well…disappointing. It had the familiar neon-orange sauce found in food court-grade Butter Chicken. The sauce was much too sweet and lacked complexity.  The meat was very dry and flavourless…they had used chicken breast (probably a bulk Costco pack of boneless and skinless breast).

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The Combo Platter was a selection of deep fried items which included Beef Kebab, Mogo (cassava), Nylon Bhajia (dollar potatoes) and Samosa. It also included a triplet of dipping sauces –  Tamarind, Coconut-Cilantro Chutney, and Green Chili Chutney.

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The Samosa, Nylon Bhajia and Mogo were decent – fresh tasting and not at all oily despite being deep-fried. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. The Kebab tasted pre-fried, stale and dry.

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My lunch companion picked up a frozen curry meal to go. He reported later that it was “decent.” It was packed into a vacuum sealed microwavable segmented container  resembling a TV dinner (remember those?)

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Clearly, I had my expectations set too high. Perhaps if I wasn’t so picky, I would probably enjoy this food. This area which is at the edge of a light-industrial zone is a little thin of good eating (the truly amazing Argo Cafe is just around the corner, however) so this cafeteria probably fills the bill for many people working within walking distance.

A tip like the one I had most often leads to hidden gems…not this time, unfortunately…not for me anyway.

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Pita Star on Urbanspoon

Taj Mahal Club – Kowloon, HK


Taj Mahal Club
B4, 3/F, Block B, Chung King Mansion
36-44 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui

Kowloon, Hong Kong
+852 2722 5454

There are some cuisines that for some reason or another just seem more conducive and better appreciated in a group environment.  For me, Indian is one of those.  Perhaps is the still relative niche-ness and lack of true understanding of the diversity of this country’s food culture by many North Americans that leads one to want to share with others – perhaps out of fear of making a disappointing decision while ordering the unknown. Others might suggest that its just simply wanting to try a little of everything on the usually large menus of such restaurants – which in and of itself is not a bad thing for someone that is continually trying to broaden their perspectives and knowledge.

While in Hong Kong recently, it dawned on me that there might be a hypothesis worth testing.  Does the lack of great familiarity with Indian cuisine also work hand-in-hand when dining in a group where most people don’t know each other well?  A double dose of hesitation, uncertainty and tentativeness so to speak.   I decided to have an actual experiment and our group’s decision to share a meal together in a strange country (no native Hong Kongers in our posse), with non-native cuisine and in a location (the restaurant was inside an actual residential complex) that was slightly intimidating, even further complicated matters.

Located on the third floor, and with a group of ten members, we opted to take the stairs up to the Taj Mahal Club restaurant, despite the existence of an elevator.  In hindsight, I am not sure that was the wisest decision, as the halls were darkly lit and dingy, with all sorts of local residents (all apparently Indians) sitting in the stairwell passing time with friends, and it felt like we were invading someone’s private space.  I swear I also saw smears of red on the walls which did not look like paint at all, and made me think this place has a sketchy past.  But once you get to the front door, you are welcomed by a brightly lit display, complete with press coverage dutifully collected and shown on the wall – including both local and foreign media.

Despite the relatively uneasy start to our night, the meal itself was an excellent example of the ability to get authentic ethnic cuisine in a country not native to that type of food.  The various curries we ordered included some staple chicken and lamb for those more timid, as well as more pure vegetarian options (yes, those people still do exist!).   The lamb version that I sampled had an ample amount of spice and was flavorful and the hot kick from it certainly made the bowl of rice and plates of fresh naan go all the more faster.  The coconut milk-based curries on our table were a bit sweeter and thus satisfied those for whom high levels of spice was not appreciated.  Simply put, our folks with various preferences meshed well with the curry menu and it enabled everyone to get at least one that they enjoyed, thus not leaving anyone out.

Tandoori chicken is always a catch-22 for me.  As much as I enjoy it, too many times I’ve been let down by it being overcooked and a dry, flaky mess of meat.  Thankfully, Taj Mahal Club does an amazing job with this.  The meat was tender and juicy, and the marinade had held up incredibly well through the cooking process.   An assortment of other dishes were on our table, but given the size of our row, I was unable to get other images.  But judging from the loud conversations and general jovial mood and rapidly depleting plates and bowls, I could tell that things were just as tasty at other sections of our row.

So how would I conclude my tested idea?  I would say that whenever great food can be had, it certainly helps to relax the mood on a night out with people who are meeting for the very first time.  The diversity of Indian cuisine, even in just the well known curry dishes alone, work well to meet the personal tastes and needs of everyone at the table, from carnivores to vegetarians, lovers of spice and those who are not.  When people are not really comfortable with a type of cuisine, I think that even works to help break the ice and enable those who are slightly more familiar to share what they know, and engage others in conversation.  A sort of exploration as a team occurs, with everyone anxious to give their thoughts and opinions on each dish, knowing that its a safe environment with nobody really standing out as a true expert on the cuisine so their impressions won’t be smashed to smithereens.

I’m sure the cold pints of Kingfisher didn’t have anything to do with it either…

Nirvana Sweet House Restaurant and Hall – Calgary, AB


Nirvana Sweet House, Restaurant, and Hall
#1009-5075 Falconridge Blvd.NE
Calgary, AB T3J 3K9
(403) 590-9797

In a highly competitive world, restaurants are always looking for an edge. Lots of new restaurants try and upscale old ideas, usually to mixed success. Classic cuisines are classic for a reason – they work. They taste good, they have the benefit of being tried and true.

In Castleridge, an area dense with East Indian eateries, there is one that stands out from the others. From the owners of Bombay Sweet House, on the back side of Castlebridge Mall, is Nirvana. While most of the eateries in the area are rustic, simple eateries that have basic food, presentation, and decor, Nirvana provides a different concept. Aiming for a high-end look, they’ve combined traditional Indian decor with a slightly modern, western look. Their goal with the menu is high-end Indian, with traditional dishes and ingredients.

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The interior is a mix of modern and classic. One room, surrounded with pillars, is open, airy, and in many ways, cavernous. It is clearly used for banquets, as the vast spacing between tables makes it an uncomfortable dining experience. The second room is a well appointed room decorated in a more traditional “palace-style” Indian decor. This is the room used for service during regular restaurant hours. Spacing is still a bit awkward, but it does the job. I’ll be honest – as clean, nice, and tidy that it is, I don’t like the space. It’s definitely more banquet hall than restaurant. Each table is too detached from the others. I’d prefer a more intimate environment.

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The food is your typical tour across India. Dishes that represent Northern, Central, and South Indian dishes. Geared for producing banquets, the ala carte menu is extensive, with roughly 90 items.  Prices are actually quite reasonable – a great place to try a wide variety of dishes.

During my first visit, they had a buffet. They’ve since cancelled it, and it’s tough to compare buffet to ala carte service. However, my general  impressions of the buffet were that it was good quality, well spiced, and well prepared.

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On  a second visit, we ordered strictly ala carte. Murgh Makhni (butter chicken), tandoori platter, paneer e shola, saffron pulao, and naan.  I’m not a huge fan of butter chicken, but it was pretty decent. Good tandoori flavour, a nice rice butter sauce. A touch dry, but otherwise quite enjoyable.

The tandoori platter was good, but not specifically memorable. A mix of chicken tikka, paneer tikka, tandoori prawn,  fish tikka, and kebab, the paneer tikka was probably my favorite. The prawns were dry, the fish tikka was quite good flavour wise, but quite dry as well, and the rest don’t really strike much a chord with me.

The paneer e shola were good, but the chick peas were a bit overcooked, and the flavour wasnt well balanced. Too much bitterness. Rice and naan were standard,

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The owners of Nirvana bill it as “one of the finest establishments and first one of its kind in North America taking East Indian dining to another level”. This is a bit overstated, and Nirvana Sweet House is an overly ambitious project that doesn’t succeed on so many levels. While definitely clean, it is a cold, impersonal, and sterile space. The food is of good quality, and traditionally prepared, but fails to meet the billing of taking East Indian dining to another level. If i had to take the girlfriend’s conservative parents for Indian food on a first meeting, this might be the kind of place  i’d go. The friendly, albeit slow service is good, it’s clean, and the food is decent. On any other occasion, I’d probably pass. It’s too bad really, as the food is good, and reasonably priced. It’s just not a comfortable place to eat. I’d rather eat at the Bombay Sweet House.

Nirvana Sweet House Restaurant and Hall on Urbanspoon

House of Dosas – Vancouver, BC


House of Dosas
1391 Kingsway
Vancouver, BC
Tel: (604) 875 1283

I must openly admit something before I begin. Two separate trips that I’ve taken to the amazing country of India in the past fifteen months has ruined me for good when it comes to Indian cuisine served in North America.  It’s not to say that its not good here at times, its just that the overwhelming eating experiences I had in the Motherland were simply unforgettable and gave me a deeper appreciation of the food of that diverse country – although I am still nowhere close to being called an expert.  To top it off, India was always one of the countries I’ve long wished to see for myself, and I think the awe and shock of that total immersion just filled me with positive (and perhaps unrealistic by Canadian standards) impressions and memories that will forever affect the way I look at Indian food.

The House of Dosas is located in an easily recognizable space, in a one-story building on the corner of Kingsway and Knight Street.  With large inviting windows with minimal coverings, you can’t help but notice it when driving by, especially when stopped at the lights of that intersection.  A friend of mine had mentioned that she had seen it and said we must make a visit one day, and as luck would have it, a group of us were up for an impromptu weekday dinner gathering.  I was just hoping the dosas would be as great as the ones I had for my daily breakfast this past spring in Trivandrum, located on the southern tip of India.

Immediately upon entering, things got a little confusing as a pair of young men were standing by the front bar, dressed in regular t-shirts and jeans.  I wasn’t exactly sure if they were just customers waiting for some service or if they were the service – which was made all the more difficult as they seemed to be engrossed in the cricket match playing on one of the hanging LCD screens.  After an awkward pause or two, and an attempt to understand the situation through simple eye contact with one of them, we were put at ease as he identified himself as someone who could seat us for our table of four.  Overall, the space is quite open, and feels like it could be home to your regular run-of-the-mill neighborhood pub, with its bar, ample square tables and a fore mentioned television screens.

We decided to share a few items, of various spice levels, to allow us each to get sample of the offerings here.  The Lamb Curry (Korma) was ordered, medium on the heat meter.  This came with a heaping of steamed rice, a slice of hot naan bread, a yogurt dipping sauce and several thin wafer pappadums.  Now I know many people have their own sensitivity levels to spicy food, I’d say I’m more of the middle-of-the-road when it comes to how much I can handle.  For me, I could feel the heat in the curry, and needed some breaks of water and yogurt in between bites to cool things down, but on the taste side of things it was rich and creamy smooth.  Ample pieces of tender lamb (with none of its gamey-ness retained) were submerged in the mixture, with each of us getting enough of the meat in our individual spoonfuls.

Seafood Dosa was a popular variety I had in Kerala.  Probably due to its close proximity to the sea.  I was pleasantly surprised to see it on the menu here.  The way it was presented in its long cylinder shape, drew looks from everyone in the room, no doubt many of them anxiously awaiting theirs to be delivered.  Once cut up into segments, you could get a better sense of the filling (or lack there of).  We cut ours up into four even sections, but in actuality only the middle two had any internal substance.  This was somewhat disappointing, as we had to spread some of the korma to prevent the rice/lentil crêpe from going to waste.  Frankly, I wasn’t so overwhelmed with this dish in terms of the flavor.   Lastly, I loved how this was served on a flat green plate, remincent of the large plantain leaves that some food is served on in Southern India.

Beef Curry with mild spice was another dish we tried (and that I managed to capture an image of), and it was clear there was a dramatic dropoff in heat between the medium and the mild.  The beef seemed a lot more ordinary to me compared to the lamb – I think it was both the spiciness as well as the type of protein itself.

All around us was an interesting mix of diners.  Upon seeing some Indian families at the tables, with the older women attired in those beautiful saris, I got the sense that the House of Dosas has the seal of approval from the local Indo-Canadian community.  I found it interesting though, that most of them were not going for the dosas.  A younger Indian couple dragging in large luggage bags with airline tags still on the handles were sitting next to us and devouring some plates of curry.  I got the sense they were craving some Indian food having been on a plane all day.

If I were to make a repeat visit, I’d probably give another dosa variant a try, but likely in the end return for another bowl of the delicious korma.  Or better yet, hold out for another trip to India itself.

House of Dosa on Urbanspoon

Mango Shiva Indian Bistro and Chai Bar – Calgary, AB


Mango Shiva Indian Bistro and Chai Bar
218 8 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB T2P 1B5
(403) 290-1647
Open Mon-Sat 11am-3pm, 5pm-10pm

Progress: advancement. gradual improvement or growth or development.

As any city like Calgary grows, there are many changes that occur. Sometimes, this can be viewed positively such as the influx of new people, ideas, and cultures. Sometimes, it can be viewed negatively, say through rising crime or the demolition of old character buildings to make way for new skyscrapers. Whether or not this is progress, is a personal value judgement. So when the building that originally housed Mango Shiva was torn down, to make way for a skyscraper, I figured that would be the end of the slightly upscale East Indian eatery that was Mango Shiva – a restaurant that housed some fond memories for me.

Well, Mango Shiva is back. Moved from their original location next to Cowboys, down onto Stephen Avenue into the heart of the downtown core, they’ve been reincarnated as an Indian Bistro and Chai Bar. Definitely an upscale location, the new room is impressive in a modern sort of way – dark woods, polished surfaces, shiny fixtures. You know, progress.

Now the original Mango Shiva was always a bit different from your average Indian restaurant. Their decor seemed slightly more upscale – everything seemed cleaner, if not a bit eclectic. They used higher quality ingredients, service was a bit better, and of course, prices were slightly higher as well. But it was always a safe choice. You heard few complaints about Mango Shiva.

The new Mango Shiva has taken the original concept, and accelerated it by ten. Not only is the decor very modern, but service is excellent, the ingredients are very fresh, and of course, the prices are slightly higher. Menu items have a modern interpretation to them. Progress.

I was there on a Friday for lunch, and I showed up right as they opened. “Do you have a reservation?” i was asked. Whoops… didnt think i’d need one. The realities of downtown dining that i’ve forgotten. I was politely told they were completely booked, but would be happy to serve us at the bar. Works for me.

Everything is ordered ala Carte, same as usual. The bartender, who was our server, was patient, polite, and friendly. Finally, my dining companion chooses the butter chicken – a choice i’m thrilled with, because i get to try it without having to eat an entire order myself – I am, after all, not the biggest fan of butter chicken. I choose the lamb chops. We get a couple orders of naan and rice as well.

Butter chicken ($17) is a good staple to use for comparison from restaurant to restaurant, as it’s as ubiquitous as pho sate, or ginger beef. The Butter Chicken at Mango Shiva is good. Not done in the traditional way I am used to, their modern interpretation has all the great elements of butter chicken – the richness, the depth of flavour, and the tenderness – just highlighted differently. They used whole pieces of chicken, that have been clearly marinating for a long period of time. There is an excellent balance of flavours – pepper, cumin, citrus, coriander, garlic and ginger, with the pepper, cumin, citrus and coriander flavours being most dominant. Not a lot of heat though. The sauce has a nice depth of flavour, and a heavy dose of butter/ghee. It’s definitely a thicker, more tomato-emphasized sauce, but together, they work well.

The lamb chops ($22) are good as well. Tender, though with a slightly dried out texture, the cardamon, cinnamon, pepper, garlic, and cumin flavours blend really well with the slightly lean cuts of lamb. Topped with a dizzying array of vegetables and nuts, the lamb is combined with a forgettable sauce, though still satisfying. The toppings bother me a bit as well, as they take away from the lamb. They seemed to be placed without any specific purpose or reason.

The rice ($2.50) and naan ($2.50) are decent. Nothing exceptional, nothing noteworthy. Fairly small sized servings for the price though (two orders of naan pictured).

Overall, Mango Shiva is a newer, updated version of what they’ve always done; good service, good modern interpretations of classic Indian food. Everything about it is very safe and familiar. Of course, the drawback to this is the food, while good, is safe and familiar. If i was to classify Mango Shiva as a restaurant, I would say it is the place to go when you are craving Indian, and on a blind date, corporate lunch, or taking your significant other’s parents out for dinner. It’s a nice room, nothing too adventerous, and you know what to expect. You won’t go wrong. While I generally prefer to be more on the risk-taking side of dining out, especially when talking about Indian food, there is certainly a reason, and a need for this kind of dining. Mango Shiva fills this niche quite nicely. Not exactly progress, but a good thing nonetheless 🙂

Mango Shiva Indian Bistro & Chai Bar on Urbanspoon

Dunbar Pizza and Grill – Vancouver, BC


Dunbar Pizza & Grill
3348 Dunbar Street
Vancouver, BC
Tel: (604) 732-4999
Hours: Mon-Thu, 11am to 11pm; Fri-Sat, 11am to midnight; Sun, 4pm to 11pm
Delivery: Free within 7 kms on orders over $20; 7% off on pickup orders over $20

Sometimes the cultural mosaic that makes up this great nation of Canada brings with it some interesting and eye-catching combinations, especially when it pertains to food, and at times must surely be seen as blasphemy back in the native countries where the cuisine originates. Sure, there are the occasional experiments with fusion cuisine that often marries two opposing styles of cultural techniques and ingredients (East meets West, Ming Tsai-style comes to mind here) into a single restaurant entity. At other times, it is a primitive headbutt of cuisines that arises, presumably due to the hand-off of a food serving establishment to an entirely different person of another cultural background who then has the difficult task of having to maintain the original theme of the business to retain the existing client base, but who also wants to implant their own mark on their new found enterprise by injecting some of their own cooking methods and food knowledge.

I found a great example of this recently in the Dunbar neighborhood of Vancouver. A very homey, somewhat eclectic street (but no where near the level of say Vancouver’s Main Street or Commercial Drive), that flies under the radar for most of the city’s residents, is home to several restaurants with most of them being of the casual variety. With a relatively close proximity to the University of British Columbia campus, I am sure the numerous pizza, coffee and pubs that abound, make for some convenient pickings for students on the evening prowl. Just off the corner from 16th Avenue turning onto Dunbar, I immediately spotted two pizza joints. Having no idea which one was better, I simply went with the one that was easier to park nearby and I could see someone inside of. Through this unscientific decision process, Dunbar Pizza & Grill was the selection on this night.

Returning to the culinary crisscross that I was describing earlier, this place which first appeared to be specializing in only pizza, had a twist. The generic menu board posted on the wall inside clearly showed that samosas, roti, and curries were available as well. How strange I thought, until seeing the Indian proprietor behind the counter. A friendly chap, who seemed to be enjoying his television program on the nearby set, while another employee was gathering some boxes for an apparent delivery order. Small, medium, and large pizza pies could be had with any three toppings for $9.99, $11.99, and $13.99, respectively. As well, sixteen signature pizza options were listed as well.

Here’s where I thought I’d take a chance. A mix between an Italian and Indian place all in one was too much to pass up. As such, the Tandoori Chicken Special Pizza was my call; with part of me even thinking of by-passing pizza all together and going all-Indian with a Lamb Vindaloo or a Daal Amrtisari. It took maybe 15-20 minutes before it was ready to take home, and upon opening the box, I must say it didn’t look too bad. A good spread of toppings such as green peppers and onions, with pieces of the chicken peaking out from beneath the layer of cheese, and finished off with slices of fresh tomatoes.

Taking a slice out and examining the cross section, it was neither too think or too thin a base either. The edge crust was just fine as well, nice and crispy but not overly so. Taking a bite, all the flavors envisioned from the toppings were there, although the anticipated taste of the tanodoori chicken was not there. I was expecting much more stronger flavors in the chunks of meat. Could it have been a poor tandoori to begin with, or not a suitable topping for pizza and got masked by the cooking process in the oven or blanketed by the cheese too much, I am not fully sure. Lastly, I felt that the bottom base of the pizza was a bit overcooked for my liking. It had that slightly brittle consistency that is a clear sign it was in the oven for a few minutes too long.

So I’d say this particular experiment of melding two cuisines was not a rousing success. Frankly, the tandoori chicken could have just been chunks of regular chicken breast meat. For all the anticipation I had built up in my own mind as to what this match up would be like, I felt left down. It’s all my fault though. I clearly got overly excited with my imagination. Now if they had swapped out the tomato sauce for say a curry flavored paste, etc. then perhaps it would have really been something I’d never had before. I’ll try not to let my imagination get the best of me, the next time I see a culinary cultural collision such as this one at Dunbar Pizza & Grill.

Dunbar Pizza & Grill on Urbanspoon

University Village [Leona Mediterranean | Curry Point | Donair Town] – Vancouver, BC


To recognize the return of university students to the campus at UBC this week, I thought I’d take a quick look at some of the eating options for these youth at the University Village, as they begin or continue their journey in nourishing their minds through academia…

First off, Leona Mediterranean.  Here they serve mainly curries and simple wraps, as well as some platted offerings.  I ordered the special of the day, a chicken leg stewed in a tomato-base, served with a side of cooked vegetables, rice and choice of one salad (I chose the Greek).  The chicken had been marinated okay, and the sauce had both a sweet and sour flavor, not surprising since it was coming from tomatoes.  The rice, a long grain, was a little dry which made me wish more of the sauce that chicken was stewed in had been provided.  The carrot, green bean, potato mixture was decent, with flavor properties like the chicken.  The salad was fresh, nice crisp cucumber and green peppers.  All in all, an adequate and filling meal, which felt healthy.

Next, the Curry Point.  Its located in the far end of the hall, so difficult to spot when you come down the stairs.  It’s part of a chain comprised of three outlets in BC.  The others being in North Vancouver and one on the Island in Nanaimo.  Here you can choose from various curries, getting as little or as much variety as you wish.  The non-veg curries included some Murg Makhani (aka Butter Chicken), the veg ones had among others, Chana Masala.  I elected a non-veg and a veg to complete my pairing, that came with some rice as well as a piece of naan (which was too soggy).  The Gosht Masala (beef curry) had boneless beef, all in the garlicy, tomato paste gravy – but lacking any spicy heat.  The daal (lentil curry) suffered from the heating pan system, as they were breaking down much more than they should, and at the end tasted really chalky.  Again, not much spice at all in the flavoring here, probably “dumbed down” for the local crowd.  I’d pass on this joint, even if it is fast food Indian.

Curry Point (UBC) on Urbanspoon

Finally, Donair Town.  The surprise of the lot, as I was pleased with the tasty package I received, a pita filled shawarma, and I chose a mixture of beef and chicken (both soft and crispier bits).  Stuffed with some fresh lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, and generous dollops of Tzatziki and garlic paste.  The regular size ($5.99) was my order and it turned out to be a fully stuffed package, not sure if I could have eaten the super size offering.

I liked how they wrapped it all up tightly, completely enclosed so nothing could slip out until the moment it was consumed.  Less of a mess, and was appreciated as I took it back to my car.  I could see a few kids carrying this out on my way down to the food court here, so know its a popular choice.

So there you have it, a trio of samplings for the back to school crowd.  Back in my days of school, they had nothing like these ethnic offerings, so am quiet envious about the choice today’s students have in their basic on-campus food zones.

University Village [Leona Mediterranean | Curry Point | Donair Town]
B1, 5728 University Boulevard
Vancouver, BC

Donair Town on Urbanspoon

Puspa East Indian Restaurant – Calgary, AB


Puspa East Indian Restaurant
1051 40 Avenue NW
Calgary, AB T2K 0G2
(403) 282-6444
Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-2:30pm, 5pm-10:30pm

It doesn’t always pay to be on the leading edge. In Jennifer Lee’s book, “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles”, she documents how migrant Chinese workers moved into the restaurant business in the early 1900’s. Rather than serve traditional Chinese food, which would be a tough sell, they served the invented dish Chop Suey; as both a big joke on all the “white people”, and to sell palatable Chinese food to a culture that was adverse to most of the qualities of authentic Chinese food. With increased global awareness, this challenge is not uncommon today either. New cuisines, as they enter a city, or another culture, face many different challenges. They are responsible for educating a whole new audience on the flavours and values that make up their cuisine, while serving something that will suit their tastes. The end result is often a watered down, blander, less authentic version of the cuisine. Sort of like Chop Suey.

Puspa East Indian Restaurant is located in a small stripmall in NW Calgary. While they were not one of the first East Indian restaurants in Calgary, they were definitely on the leading edge, having been around for more than 15 years. The restaurant itself is littered with old reviews ranging from 1994 to 2001, which always makes me nervous.

The decor itself is dated, but the environment is very clean. A smiling proprietor appears from the back a minute after I enter the establishment – apparently the only one serving today. I am promptly seated. And the proprietor disappears again.

During their lunch hour, instead of a buffet, they have lunch specials available. Basically a plate of curry available in a variety of meats, on a bed of rice and salad. Ringing in under 10 bucks, the price is definitely a good selling feature. I order the lamb curry, and a side of naan as well.

The naan arrives fairly hot from the tandoor. It looks great. Unfortunately, that only leads to greater disappointment.  It is a bit soggy, and completely flavourless,

The curry arrived as stewed meat with no distinguishable curry flavour.  The salad was limp. The rice was ok. The meat was recognizable as lamb. A bit tough and stringy, but I knew what i was eating.

Surpsingly enough, their menu actually has some interesting dishes on it. Unfortunately, in what i sampled, their food lacked the heat, spice and depth that make up the Indian food that i enjoy. Their longevity obviously speaks to some level of success, but for those of you who have developed a more distinguished palate when it comes to Indian food, this may be a place to pass on. With reviews from 2001 and prices to match, It’s too bad really that they havent managed to adapt their flavours for a more modern audience. Because really, a good Chop Suey can still be good.

Puspa on Urbanspoon