It seems most appropriate that on Valentine’s Day 2013, Mango Grove and Mirchi Wok will celebrate a year of peace and love between a pair of culinary “isms” -- vegetarianism and carnivorism. On this date in 2012, chef/owner Rohit Chawla and staff opened their doors to Indian food aficionados who previously had to choose one or the other “ism” if they wanted to dine on Chawla’s creative recipes. Although Mango Grove and Mirchi Wok were in the same building, they had separate dining rooms and separate kitchens.
The lapsing of Chawla’s lease at the old Dobbin Road location and subsequent search for a new venue brought the pair of restaurants to Centre Park drive. With 120 seats, a full bar and an affable staff, patrons now don’t have to choose which eating style they prefer. Vegetarians can choose from the Mango Grove menu; meat-eaters can opt for the Mirchi Wok menu. Or -- even more fun -- diners can select something from each.
That’s precisely what a quartet of us did recently. The ambience here is conducive to relaxed conversation. High ceilings add a feeling of spaciousness. And in traditional Indian style, tables are dressed in gold cloths with burgundy napkins. Lights are low, and surrounding sounds are not intrusive.
Adding to the atmosphere are the enticing aromas that come from the kitchens (one for vegetarian fare and one for dishes containing meat).
An appetizer platter ($12.95) from the Mango Grove menu provided an ample sampling of many of our favorites. The assortment featured a pair of golden-brown pyramid-shaped samosas plump with potatoes and peas, with just the right amount of spice to titillate. A pair of vegetables pakoras (fritters), a pair of sabudana wadas (fried tapioca fritters) and some aloo tiki (potato bread) made up the sharable serving. A cilantro dunk and a tamarind dip accompanied the platter.
We simply had to have some roti -- stuffed breads -- as well. Cheese and onion kulka ($5.95) were soft, chewy, fragrant and savory. Onion paratha ($4.95) was like a large pancake, all loaded with onion.
Potatoes and onions are major ingredients in many Indian dishes, so we also ordered one of Mango Grove’s specialties: a Madras rava masala dosai ($12.95). Actually a main dish, it’s a huge crisp pancake gently rolled around a traditionally spiced potato and onion mixture (the masala). The combination of comfort and fragrant spice reminded us why Indian food can be downright addictive.
Our main dish choices were mostly meaty, although one taster opted for a Mango Grove signature dish, Manglorian eggplant curry ($13.95), medium spice requested. Served up in a little copper crock, this glorious combination of smooth eggplant, earthy mushrooms and sweet peas in a creamy coconut sauce is certain to become a must-order item each time we visit. Fragrant, fluffy basmati rice, which accompanied all our main dishes, was served family style.
Another guest chose his entrée from the Mirchi Wok appetizer section. Served on a sizzling platter, the Mirchi mixed grill ($18.95) featured kabobs, tandoori chicken, chicken tikka and a lamb kabob. Mildly spiced, each with its own flavor personality, virtually everything in this meat-eater’s nirvana was moist, tender and expertly prepared.
There’s a Mirchi Wok menu section that’s titled “Lamb entrées and goat delicacies.” According to chef/owner Chawla, lamb is unheard of in India, while goat is pretty much the meat of choice. In the spirit of Indo-U.S. détente, both meats are offered here. We chose the lamb badami korma ($16.95), a comforting treasure of tender stewed lamb laved in a creamy almond-onion sauce that had been flavored with mace and cinnamon. With the basmati rice and some naan bread for scooping up the gravy … mmm.
One reason the meat-eater’s kitchen here is called Mirchi Wok is that a portion of the menu is devoted to Indo-Chinese fare, with emphasis on the Chinese. And among the wok entrées is a little number called simply Chili Chicken ($13.95). Our guest with the asbestos mouth ordered this one, which is described as “chunks of batter-fried nuggets tossed with slit green chilies, onions and green bell peppers” and “finished with scallions for the authentic Oriental flavor.” He ordered it “spicy.” He was warned. The rest of us could feel the heat emanating from his big plate -- and demurred when offered a taste. He, however, was all aglow over the tender, moist chicken, the crisp-tender peppers and everything else in this saucy combination. His cheeks turned quite red, but there were no tears and no runny nose. The verdict: a huge success. We took his word for it.
So now that meat-eaters and vegetarians can gather amicably in one dining room, we inquired as to what percentage of guests favor one menu over the other. Chawla says it’s just about 50-50.
Peaceful co-existence, indeed.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun