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"Dil Se" is the name of a 1998 Bollywood romantic thriller. It means "from the heart" in Hindi. It's also the name of a new Indian restaurant in Portland at SW 12th and Jefferson St (in the old West Cafe location) from the owner of Tandoori Kitchen in Hillsboro (http://dilsepdx.com).
Their grand opening isn't for a week or so but they were open so we went in. Dil Se is about a 6-block walk from home. It was empty when we came in but, during the course of our visit, filled to about half...not bad for a restaurant that hasn't "officially" opened yet!
The menu reveals the standard collection of pakoras, samosas, paneer, sambar, vegetarian dishes, etc. It also reveals a surprising number of grilled and tandoor meat and seafood dishes. They have dosas (my primary reason for wanting to try it)!
1) medhu vada (share...came with a cup of sambar to use as a dip);
2) vegetable samosas (share);
3) lamb keemah dosa (me...came with a cup of sambar);
4) aloo gobi with rice (she); and
5) garlic naan (share).
So... some caveats. Neither of us specified a level of spiciness. I generally like spicy Indian food but BAD spicy Indian food is gastrointestinal distress on a plate. Given that, next time I will because, for my taste, everything was somewhat bland. However, this was not the fault of the chef; it was mine.
The chutneys were fresh and flavorful. The tamarind sauce was obviously from a bottle and was way too sweet.
Let me discuss each course in order:
1) Appetizers & Sambar
The medhu vada (a savory donut made from lentil flour and green onions) were freshly prepared, screaming hot and light and airy. The sambar soup that was used as a dipping sauce was chunky with vegetables and had a good flavor. The samosas were house-made and the filling was easily recognizable as vegetables...not mush.
The two cups of sambar had recognizable chunks of vegetables in a lentil broth that was flavorful and mildly spicy. I fished a dried chili out of one cup so the spiciness was honestly derived.
My wife's aloo gobi (a stew of cauliflower and potatoes) had good (and recognizable) chunks of each in a savory sauce. At other places, this dish has the consistency of 2-day-leftover creamy soup with the vegetables having no texture at all.
My lamb keemah dosa was stuffed with ground lamb flavored with ginger and other spices. Again, it had recognizable small chunks potato and peas. The lamb was not dry and hard. The (12-inch-diameter) dosa crepe was made properly with lentil and rice flour and yogurt. It was cooked properly crispy and had a mildly tangy flavor from the yogurt.
The garlic naan was light and properly chewy. It was prepared for our order and had not been sitting under a heat lamp. We had to let it cool for a bit before attempting to eat it.
I like Indian food a lot. I found Dil Se's renditions to be well-executed and flavorful. The dishes were not too salty (a problem I've found with similar Indian restaurants...especially the sambar). The vegetables were not reduced to mush and were recognizable as vegetables. The fried items were piping hot and not greasy.
Since Dil Se is new, there are some things that need to be fixed. There were no pickles available...nor any mukhwas (the sweetened fennel seed digestif that is omnipresent at the maitre d's desk). My beer (Kingfisher draft) could have been colder. The service was a bit oppressive with constant inquiries about "How is everything?" Dil Se has a full bar that we didn't try.
I'd give Dil Se a strong B+. It's worth your effort to seek it out and try it. Dil Se is in downtown Portland at SW 12th Ave & Jefferson St (walking distance for us). It's open Tuesday-Sunday with a brunch on Sunday morning.
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