Here’s some news sure to blow the mind of anyone who has ever made the trip to Vancouver to dine at Vij’s, or its sister market-restaurant Rangoli: Meeru Dhalwala, the woman who masterminds both of these Indian-inspired menus, is opening a restaurant in South Lake Union.
Yes, Dhalwala is longtime wife of chef Vikram Vij, the charismatic public-facing presence of one of the best restaurants on the West Coast. But this Seattle project will be all hers. She and business partner Oguz Istif, who handles finances and operations for Vij’s various enterprises, have signed a lease on a space at Terry and Republican in the heart of Amazonia. The restaurant, dubbed Shanik after Dhalwala and Vij’s younger daughter, is in its early stages, but Dhalwala hopes to open in November.
Seattle is filled with passionate admirers of the thrilling Indian fusion cuisine at Vij’s—cuisine about as far removed from your average chicken tikka masala as one could possible imagine. Getting our own outpost of this place would be big news, but an entirely new restaurant by the woman behind this memorable fare? Toe-curling news, indeed. Shanik’s arrival also portends an end to Seattle’s long and lamentable lack of destination-worthy Indian food.
Istif is a native of Turkey, and he and Dhalwala had long talked about doing a restaurant in Istanbul. But Dhalwala visited Seattle for a “chai chat” at Elliott Bay Book Company, she encountered some Seattleites she knew from her restaurants back home. Though she and Vij hear pleas to bring their talents to Seattle all the time, these acquaintances told Dhalwala she should consider the fast-growing South Lake Union neighborhood. Months later, she and Istif made an impromptu trip down to see the neighborhood. Boom: those far-flung restaurant plans rapidly shifted closer to home.
“I’m treating Shanik like an unplanned third pregnancy,” says the eminently quotable Dhalwala. Vij’s, which opened in 1994, is very much an eldest child, she says—sensitive, elegant and coddled. Rangoli has a second child personality, “playful and naughty and never following the rules.” Though Shanik wasn’t part of the plan, “that third child is as special as the first,” says Dhalwala. “It’s really important to me that this restaurant has its own distinct personality; none of the menus are going to be the same.”
She says Shanik’s personality will evolve organically, as will its signature dish (enjoying Vij’s signature lamb popsicles will still require a passport). The menu will be about 60 percent meat, but that other 40 percent will be knock-your-socks-off vegetarian food. Dhalwala says she’s also not shy about encouraging meat-focused diners to balance out their orders with some meatless dishes.
Right now Dhalwala is focused on developing the same close relationships with Oregon and Washington farmers that she enjoys with her suppliers in Canada. If you’re a local producer of chicken, lamb, vegetables, eggs, dairy and, of course, produce, this passionate woman would like to know you. An active force in Vancouver’s food community, Dhalwala last year gathered up talented home cooks from various ethnic background a Joy of Feeding festival that returns on June 10 (more on that later this week), and is planning to expand it to Seattle in 2013.
Meeru Dhalwala, welcome to town. We can’t wait to see what you do here.