It's easy—and inevitable—to compare Shanik to the wildly popular Vij's in Vancouver. This is the risk that chef-owner Meeru Dhalwala has taken with her new restaurant, perhaps Seattle's most highly anticipated opening of 2012.
But Vij's is 18 years old, she says, and Shanik (named after one of her daughters) is a "new generation" restaurant with a completely different menu. Oh, you'll find lamb popsicles, say (a dish made infamous at Vij's), but the recipe's different. Which is why Dhalwala is often dashing around the floor of the dining room, sensing diners' reactions and actually soliciting feedback on the food. And it's why the menus are currently on cardboard—commitment will eventually come in the form of finer material once she sees what's working now that she's culinarily crossed an international border.
Some people will complain, says Dhalwala, that this is not traditional Indian food. But, she counters, they'll soon learn that this is a creative yet comforting take on that cuisine. Some will quibble about the prices, but Dhalwala promises that there's no pre-packaging—everything is made by hand, which means lots of labor time. And, as at Vij's, some will complain about the inevitable lines. Shanik does not take reservations, Dhalwala explains, because that's not the Indian experience. Time shouldn't matter when you come with conversationalists, casually sip drinks in the lounge, and eventually enjoy a fun evening of food.
That food includes "starters" like curried deviled eggs, grilled jackfruit with sour cream chutney, and—yes—samosas (made with potatoes and bell peppers, and served with curried chickpeas). The middle section of the menu features five dishes that vegetarians will favor, like grilled vegetables on brown basmati and green lentil pilaf, roasted eggplant and butternut squash with black chickpeas, and Portobello mushroom and rapini/mustard green curry. Finally, the meaty entrées include chicken, goat, salmon, pork, beef, and lamb, all grilled, braised, and otherwise cooked in a variety of spices and curries.
If she can go where she wants, Dhalwala says that the menu will get more adventurous in the future, pushing the local palate. "I've yet to punch Seattle in the face with things like okra and crickets, like we've served in Vancouver," she schemes, with a seductive smile. Check out photos of Shanik's pre-cricket plates and more in the slideshow above.
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.