Sunday, April 28, 2013

Cardamom Hill - Atlanta

Despite its bounty of spices, regional variety, and cross cultural interpretations, Indian food or the more readily available Anglicized version is rarely my first choice for a meal. Although an episode of Top Gear will occasionally put me in the mood for a chicken curry with plenty of Glaswegian gravy, I tend to stay farther east for my Asian cuisines. However, this is no denying the allure of a well fried piece of chicken and it is fried chicken that brought me to Cardamom Hill in the first few days of 2013.

As I understand the story, Chef Asha Gomez began the Spice Route Supper Club in 2010 which led to acclaim for her Kerala fried chicken at The Atlanta Food and Wine Festival and ultimately the opening of Cardamom Hill in early 2012. (For more in depth background stories, Kessler, Lauterbach, and Foodie Buddha are fine sources). But before focusing on the influence of coconut oil on Cardamom Hill’s most popular dish, there was the matter of pork vindaloo and bhajia.

First, the bhajia, a sweet potato and onion fritter with tamarind sauce and a fruit salad.
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Not quite the loose bundle of fried rings onion bhaji that I was expecting, these bhajia dense, a bit doughy, and packed with onion flavor.
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Complimented by the tart tamarind dipping sauce, the onion and sweet potato were well balanced.

When I do make it an Indian restaurant, vindaloo curry is one of my top choices but this was my first time seeing pork as the feature ingredient.
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Taking a bite of this vinegar laced pork and appam, I quickly realized this was unlike any vindaloo I had ever encountered.
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Each piece of pork was exceedingly tender and carried a complex vinegar flavor with a chili laced tail that lingered but didn’t overwhelm.
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As for the appam, the edges were divinely thin and crunchy and the sweetness of the rice-coconut crepe meshed well with the vindaloo.

Appetizers done, the entrees began with the star of the show, the Kerala-style fried chicken.
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Beneath the thick and delightfully crunchy skin was a silky and moist chicken that was packed with a host of spices and flavors.
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There was a definite heat to the chicken’s spice but nothing that clouded the other flavors, but what I did find surprising was how similar the taste of the skin was to the bhajia from earlier in the meal.

Described as the spiciest entrée on the menu, the spicy fish curry was, per our waiter, a golden pomme frite simmered in curry flavored with kodampulli.
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According to the menu, kodampulli is a Kerala ingredient that is also known as Malabar smoked tamarind; there was plenty of slightly sour tamarind flavor in this curry.
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The trickiest part of this entrée was the mix your own approach, but one awkward pour later, I was treated to a pleasant combination of tamarind sourness and budding chili heat.
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One highlight was the vegetal crunch of the rice and vegetable thoran, but I did find the fish edging towards overcooked.

While the spicy fish curry may have been the hottest entrée on the menu, the hottest dish was by far the spicy green beans.
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Besides a toothsome texture, these green beans were joined by a caramelized onion sweetness that gave way to a genuine heat that had me draining my water glass.

Far from being an authority on Karalan cuisine, I can’t attest to Chef Gomez and Cardamom Hill’s authenticity but I could well wax poetic on the bounty of spice and flavor combinations that I encountered during this meal. However, more to the point, Cardamom Hill is miles from your average strip mall house of curry and is worth a meal if only to try their fried chicken and the pork vindaloo.

Cardamom Hill Address & Information
1700 Northside Drive, Atlanta, GA 30318 // 404-549-7012 // Cardamom Hill Website // Cardamom Hill Menu // Cardamom Hill Reservations
Cardamom Hill on Urbanspoon

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