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[PDX] Vindalho Uphill Report...

extramsg | Apr 7, 200606:34 PM

Was invited to dinner and given the choice of Bombay Cricket Club or Vindalho. My meals have been disappointing at each, but I've been to BCC way more, so I chose Vindalho. I didn't dislike Vindalho on my first two trips, but they weren't good enough that I felt any eagerness to return really. The flavors were too muted, the executions inconsistent, making the prices too high.

I never expected Vindalho to be Vij's, but I was hoping for the Indian version of Taqueria Nueve or Pho Van -- a mildly Americanized, slightly upscaled version of well-executed ethnic food benefiting from Western technique. Something that earned the higher prices for more than just a "scene". After this last visit, I feel like they're getting there and I'm more eager to return.

We tried several dishes: papadam (comes free), chicken pakoras (a special), asparagus, potato paratha (a special), naan ($3), vindalho ($15), lamb kabab ($17), lime tart ($6), and chocolate "samosa" ($6).

The papadam was just as good as the first time. Light and crisp, no off flavor. I think the intensity of the tamarind chutney that came with it should be increased, but the flavors are nicely balanced.

The chicken pakoras were excellent. They came as golf-ball sized fritters with chunks of chicken inside and a crisp coconut shell. They were both creamy and meaty, full of flavor and aroma. The chutney (roasted tomato?) that came with them was a stand out for the night, very flavorful -- sweet, tangy, earthy undertone. This was probably my favorite dish of the night.

The asparagus were cooked nicely, though I think I would have enjoyed a more complex spicing. The menu said they were stir-fried with fenugreek, but they tasted very strongly of coriander seed to me and I didn't see fenugreek. I also thought they had a strong black pepper flavor. I would have liked to see a more interesting garam masala sort of complexity. But they were fine.

The paratha was quite good. It got a little soggy as the night went on from the steaming potatoes inside, so I suggest it be eaten relatively quickly. Don't save it for later. The texture was very nice, tender but with a bit of stretchiness. It was folded over with each layer about the thickness of a flour tortilla. The outside was nicely cooked, especially around the edges, bringing out the flavor of the grain. I'd really like to try a plain version if they'd make it.

The naan was as good as my first visit -- that is to say, better than any other I've had in town. The bottom had a nice crust and the top was bubbly and stretchy. It had a nice fragrance from fennel and cumin. I wish it wasn't $3 a piece, but...

A quick note: all the chutneys/raita that we had this time were good, too, though not really better than a decent low end Indian place. I still wish they would give you a plate of chutneys for like $3 rather than $2 per dish. You really want to have a few options and $2 per petrie dish seems like too much for items that are given away at any other Indian place. Charging like they do, also makes more sense to me for more interesting chutneys like the pear-ginger than for standards like the coriander.

The vindalho was much improved over the first time I had it. The flavors are still balanced, but much more intense and interesting. It has both a nice tanginess and a nice spiciness, whereas it was relatively bland before. I believe there's both more pork and more sauce on the plate now, too. It comes topped with sweet potato fries and sided by saffron rice. The meat was cooked better this time, too, as were the sweet potato fries.

I thought the kabobs were going to be chewy when I stuck one with a fork, but they were actually tender and extremely flavorful. They were thick enough pieces that despite a nice intensity in the "glaze" and marinade the lamb came through. They had a nice pear-ginger chutney that was tangy and sweet.

Both desserts were fine, perhaps a little boring for restaurant desserts, but that's the tendency in Portland. The flavor on the lime tart was nice, citrusy without making your lips pucker, but not Country Time sweet either. The tart shell not as tender as I would like, but that's just a quibble. The coconut whipped cream was a nice balance for the tartness.

I still think they're going the easy route with the "samosas" not making actual fried dumplings. I think a heavier crust would hold up to the intense dark chocolate better, too. I have down that it was puff pastry the first time I had it, but this time it seemed more like filo. It was crispier than I remember it (which was an improvement) and not puffy at all. But I didn't take pictures of the desserts so I can't double-check. I think what I said here still applies, also: "It's served with a caramel sauce and sauteed bananas. The menu says the bananas are caramelized, but that's not really true. We're not talking maduros here, deep and brown from the conversion of their own sugars. This is one of those desserts that sounds more interesting than it really is." The dessert is fine and the caramel this time had a more burnt sugar flavor than sweetness, which worked, but I don't think it's anything special.

Overall, a much improved meal over my first two. I still don't think I'll be running back just because most of the dishes are pretty standard. Unlike Vij's they're not making food you can't find at a typical Indian restaurant. They're just giving a nicer setting and better execution. That's one step short of being a destination, imo. (This is the same reason I don't go out to Portland's midscale Mexican as often as I might, as well, although we have much better low end Mexican than we do Indian.)



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