Two new Indian spots in Chicago

CHICAGO But two new restaurants in different neighborhoods are exposing this exotic cuisine to a wider audience.

Finally, the complexity and nuance of Indian food hits the masses. Far from Devon Avenue, on a busy stretch of West Randolph, the brand new Veerasway beckons with modern decor, spice-laden cocktails and fresh ingredients.

"I have a really big passion for Indian food, and I thought there was a niche for a more modern, upscale Indian restaurant, and I thought Randolph Street would be perfect," said Angela Hepler-Lee, Veerasway.

Kalonji seeds and cumin form the base - along with tomatoes and onion - of a beautiful eggplant stew; braised lamb shank is pulled off the bone, combined with a cashew gravy and topped with crispy onions. A tandoor oven allows for puffy naan - the flatbread can be seasoned with pepper, cilantro and garlic or stuffed with goat cheese. Okra is shaved into slivers, then fried in a haystack of onions, tomatoes and spices.

From the Indo-American side of the menu: chicken drumsticks nestled into fiery hot sauce and cooling yogurt, plus poached scallops draped in seasoned coconut milk.

"I tried to please the Indian food lovers and also the ones that maybe don't think that they - don't think they like Indian food, but in fact when they get here, they find out that they do," said Hepler-Lee.

In Uptown, you know you're in for a treat when a triumvirate of mint and mango chutneys, plus cucumber raita arrive at Marigold, next door to the Annoyance Theater.

"Our recipes are 100 percent authentic. And that's important because there's a lot of recipes and dishes on Indian restaurant menus are interpretations on what is authentic," said Sandeep Malhotra, Marigold.

Family recipes abound: a duck leg is cured in spices, cooked in its own fat; stir-fried green beans and tomato chutney arrive alongside. Kalonji chicken is marinated in tumeric yogurt sauce, grilled, then served over toasted almond and raisin pulao. Crisp and fluffy naan is omnipresent, as are spices, which are toasted whole then ground as needed. Even a dish as simple as saag paneer - spinach sauteed with homemade cheese - is remarkable for its freshness.

"The modern element really is - it talks about the service. It talks about the plate presentation. It talks about how we cook a few of the dishes," said Malhotra.

With fresh fruits and vegetables, spices that are toasted and ground in house and food that has a depth of flavor unlike anything you'll find on Devon Avenue, 'modern Indian' is here to stay.

Reservations are recommended for both Marigold and Veerasway.

844 W. Randolph

4832 N. Broadway

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