Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Host Indian Restaurant

Last night, Darryl, Diane, Michael, Liana and I went to 'The Host', which is an Indian restaurant in Yorkville. I think it's been around forever, but I only heard about it from my manager Marcelo, who has extensive knowledge of Indian food, and my co-worker Vijay who is from Hyderabad, India. They both raved about it, so I thought it must be good.

The Host feels like a place where you could really dress up and not feel like you were overdoing it, or wear jeans and a t-shirt and still feel comfortable. The waiters were very attentive and dressed in semi-formal uniforms, which lent a sense of occasion to the restaurant. We sat at the front in a kind of glassed-in sunroom that was lovely and comfortable in the early evening.

We started with an appetizer platter called Mila Zula, which was a sampling of various deep-fried goodies, including samosa, onion bhajia (onion fritter), khas tikki (mashed potato, pea, and dill fritter) and murg nisha (basically tiny chicken fingers). Everything was hot, crisp, tasty, and not too greasy. Loved it. We also had an order of potato-stuffed paratha (flaky, buttery flatbread). Also very good.

For our mains, we shared Murg Makhni (butter chicken), Chicken Vindaloo (spicy chicken curry), Lamb Roganjosh (lamb curry), Kofta Dilkhush (ricotta cheese balls), guchi matar (peas and morel mushrooms), raita (cucmber yogurt salad), plain naan, and steamed white rice.

The butter chicken was decent if a little underwhelming. I may be wrong, but I think butter chicken is the Indian equivalent of those big, doughy, 'Chinese' chicken balls covered in bright red 'cherry' sauce -- it's Indian food for white people. When I was in India (Pune, Mumbai, Goa, Jaipur, Agra, Delhi) last year, we didn't see it at all. But, at the right place it can be just the thing.

The vindaloo was very nice -- spicy, but not in an overt, aggressive way. It kind of snuck up on you. Very sophisticated. The kofta was fantastic. This is a cheese dish, but it is nothing like paneer. It was basically meatballs, but in place of meat was soft, ricotta cheese. Amazing and delicious. They melted in your mouth.

The lamb was okay, but a little tough. Maybe not the best thing on the menu. And the peas and morels were fine, but I think the mushrooms were dried and reconstituted. I was hoping they'd be fresh, but this may be an unreasonable expectation. I hear that fresh morels are impossible to clean because of all the little pockets.

As for the sides, the naan was nice, big, floppy and chewy with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. The rice was a pleasant, plain accompaniment to everything, and the raita cooled us off, but was a bit runny for my taste.

To end we ordered a few plates of pistachio and mango kulfi. If you like kulfi, I think you're better off going to Lahore Tikka House where they make it from scratch and serve it on a stick like a popsicle. The kulfi here seemed to have a layer of ice on the bottom that made me think it wasn't the freshest.

Overall, it was a great place and there were a lot of Indian people dining there, which is a good sign. I think that if I went again I would try some of the dry Tandoori dishes. They looked and smelled amazing. I bet the paneer is fantastic too.

The Host
14 Prince Arthur Avenue
Lunch: Tues-Sun
Dinner: daily

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