Zach FrankelSo the next question was, where to go? Somewhere with bread, somewhere really filling, and somewhere with good vegetarian options (Zach keeps kosher, so no meat while eating out). We decided on Hema's Kitchen (http://www.hemaskitchen.com/home.html). Indian food fits all of those categories, and this place came highly recommended both by Zach and a my African American Indian friend Arif.
This place was pretty much laid out exactly like every other indian restaurant I've ever been to. By that I mean that there were lots of tables somewhat haphazardly organized in a room decorated with interesting paintings and artifacts. I'm not sure if they take reservations, but it really didn't seem like it. We didn't have to wait though and got a nice table ripe for people watching through the large window facing Clark St. The service was prompt, and my water always remained full (important for a spicy indian meal).
One special thing was it was BYOB. With the aims of having the least passover friendly meal possible, Zach brought the wheatiest beer he could find, Sam Adams Imperial White Ale. Also there's no corking charge or anything like that. Finally, it should be noted that I went to the Clark Street location while the main location is on Devon Avenue. From what I've heard the Devon operation is much larger and has a more authentic feel, but its a much further drive from Lincoln Park.
We started off with two Veggie Samosas (deep fried triangles filled with potatoes and other veggies). The crust was flaky, and there was lots of filling, making this one of the better samosas I've had. Also, the tamarind dipping sauce was sweet and thick but not overpowering like it often can be.
For our entrees we shared the Aloo Matar Paneer and the Kofta Lajawab. As my friend Supreet says, "Indian restaurants are simple. They basically have a red sauce and a green sauce and make a huge menu from making as many combinations as possible from a few other ingredients." Both of our dishes were in the red sauce, and given the option between mild, medium, and spicy, we went with medium. The sauce was rich and creamy with plenty of spice for the two of us. The first dish had potatoes, peas, and paneer (a cheese curd that looks and tastes somewhat like tofu) while the second had these little rolls called Kofta which look a little like Moroccan cigars but they're made of veggies, cashews, and cheese. Both dishes had nice textural contrast which can often be a problem in indian cooking with dishes coming out like mushy stews. One catch was that the dishes didn't come with rice or naan (a doughy bread kind of like a pita) so we had to order those in addition to our entrees. At the same time though, the entrees were reasonably priced ($10) and the naan and rice were only $2 each and came in large portions.
Left: Kofta, Right: Paneer
I hadn't had indian food in a long time, and Hema's Kitchen really hit the spot. I'd put it on par with Bombay Indian Grill for all of you Champaigners out there, except Hema's is cheaper. There were lots of awards from the typical food critic places on the walls too. Ultimately, I'd like to think that if it's a good enough indian restaurant to cut in on Devon then it must be pretty good, and that the owners were just nice enough to open up a location near me. Also, there seemed to be plenty of indian people eating there which is a good sign. As far as cost goes, I think $10 for an indian dinner is average, not necessarily a steal, but not bad. Now, as a place to end your Passover I would heavily recommend this carb heavy meal.
On a big picture blog note, I've heard from a bunch of you that I should start some kind of rating system for places. Suggestions of all kinds have come in, and I'm working out the details. For now I'm going to go with the winning suggestion from Marc Joseph and give Hema's Kitchen 3.5 / 5.0 Pearls.