Dining out: Cardamom Hill
I can hardly wait to send all of you to Cardamom Hill. Billy and I had a Date Night at this restaurant recently and had an absolutely fabulous meal. Sure, I'd read the review in Knife & Fork and the nod to "Best of 2011" as well as some rave reviews from friends, but I hadn't managed to pull the trigger on the night. SO glad we finally made it! We probably need to return a few more times just to make sure we've sorted out our favorites, but our first experience gave us a strong sampling. The restaurant reflects dishes from a very specific region in India. To quote their website: "A departure from the typical Indian restaurant, Cardamom Hill highlights the cuisine of Kerala-a lush coastal state of South India rich in spices, coconut and seafood. Dishes like pork seasoned with vinegar, fish roasted in banana leaf and beef curry (a specialty of the Roman Catholic community) reflect the European and Asian influences that evolved from Kerala's prominent position along the ancient spice routes. The restaurant is named after Kerala's central mountainous region where spices grow along the slopes of vast plantations."
First up, Duck & Plantain Croquettes ... (not to be confused with this recreational lawn game). Plantains are like goat cheese for me, they have the potential to improve almost any dish. This was certainly no exception. That said, what sent this dish over the top for me was the sauce that includes dried figs. I have no idea why chefs don't use figs more with their meals, because that single ingredient makes the dish. Figs need more of a platform than just in "Newtons."
Next up was the Seasonal Salad. This item changes frequently and didn't look like anything I had imagined. If you imagine a classic starter salad, you'll be surprised too. The dish is basically a sampling plate. For us, the salad was fried plantains (can't go wrong) and a mixed fruit and vegetable salad (with the lightest, most flavorful dressing) with braised short rib in the middle. I know the image below is sub-par, but the short rib in particular was perfect (also available as an entree). The pulled meat had little fat and was far more flavorful than anything you'll find at a barbecue place. Plus, the serving size gave you enough for a taste without allowing over-indulgence!
For the entree, we walked into the restaurant with two strong tips: order the baked fish special and the fried chicken. My foodie friend Hyunah had been talking about the fish non-stop and since it was a halibut AND served with Plantains, I was all about it. (3 out of 4 dishes had plantains for those of you keeping track - you can see why I was so happy!!) The baked fish is different based on availability, but it comes with a sauce that has shallots, a mild curry, and cardamom that's to die for.
If you check out Cardamom Hill online and read many reviews, it doesn't take long to discover people raving about their fried chicken. People write about the unusual flavor and what a great find the dish is. I hate to be a naysayer, but the dish doesn't live up to the hype. Granted, the chicken DOES taste different from any other kind of fried chicken because of the unusual mix of spices, but it's still fried chicken. I am much more likely to relish the chicken from One Eared Stag with its "potlicker" au jus. That said, I DID pick every last piece of fried basil off of Billy's plate. (Note to self : learn how to fry basil)
We were thoroughly stuffed by the end of dinner and waved off the dessert menu. However, the waiter brought us complimentary chi tea lattes because we had to wait a good while between appetizers and entrees. On a date night, the extra time at the table isn't a bad thing, but in general, if you want a quick and snappy meal, Caradmom Hill is a bit longer experience.
I am notoriously picky with my tea. I love English/Irish breakfast tea, I abhor Earl Grey, and I am very picky about the type of chamomile I'll drink. I usually find chi tea to be too "peppery" for me, but I was OVER THE MOON about this little cup of goodness.
Happy dining friends!